Tea Party Candidates Fading In Georgia
Among the more high profile Senate primaries that will take place this month is the Republican primary in Georgia to fill the seat being vacated by the retirement of Saxby Chambliss. The Democrats have united behind Michelle Nunn, the daughter of Sam Nunn, who served Georgia in the Senate from 1972 to 1997. On the Republican side, the race is fairly wide open and includes no less than three Members of Congress, the former Georgia Secretary of State, and David Perdue, a business executive who has served in appointed positions but is likely best known as the cousin of former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue. Not surprisingly the Tea Party and the groups that support it are getting heavily involved in the race. However, as in North Carolina and Kentucky, those candidates don’t seem to be doing well:
CANTON, Ga. — Nowhere in the United States did the tea party seem better poised for victory than in Georgia’s open Senate race. The Peach State, along with South Carolina, has anchored the movement for the past five years, providing Congress with four of the 25 most conservative voting records.
Yet on a recent evening, Rep. Jack Kingston (R) strode across the stage at Cagle’s Family Farm with the surprising air of a front-runner. He is exactly the kind of candidate the tea party movement most reviled: a 22-year member of Congress with a history of doling out federal dollars.
In this crowded Republican primary, however, Kingston has seemingly found a path toward the top and is poised to advance beyond the May 20 primary to what is likely to be a two-candidate runoff in July. His most conservative challengers, meanwhile, have struggled to catch on.
The Savannah congressman’s position in this Senate race is emblematic of the tea party’s pains nationwide. On Tuesday, the movement floundered in North Carolina, where the establishment choice, Thom Tillis, cruised to the nomination over underfunded conservatives. In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) has eviscerated his tea party challenger ahead of the May 20 primary.
The movement’s Washington-based advocates, disappointed in the quality of conservative candidates, have stayed on the sidelines or have latched on to people who don’t fit neatly into their anti-establishment mold.
Kingston and businessman David Perdue — a multimillionaire cousin of former governor Sonny Perdue — have been atop most polls and have raised more money than their most conservative rivals, creating the possibility that the July 22 runoff will leave conservatives without a candidate. If no one receives more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary, the top two candidates will proceed to the runoff.
A victory by Kingston or Perdue would make it harder for Democrats to take over the seat of retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R). Michelle Nunn, a fundraising dynamo from her years running a large charity organization, has been one of the best Democratic recruits this season. To help her win, Democrats had hoped that Republicans would nominate one of the more conservative candidates in the race — someone such as Rep. Paul C. Broun, a hard-right firebrand who might struggle among centrist suburban voters.
With no candidate expected to be close to 50 percent in the May 20 ballot, the fight is to advance to the runoff. This means that Broun and two other more natural conservatives — Karen Handel, a former secretary of state running as a Sarah Palin acolyte, and Rep. Phil Gingrey — have a chance if they can somehow make it into the top two. Handel is the only one of the trio to show momentum in recent weeks, but many party strategists question whether her underfunded campaign can break through in the closing days.
The most recent poll, conducted in late April by Insider Advantage, had Perdue in the lead with 22%, Handel in second with 21%, Kingston at 17%, and then Broun and Gingrey at 15% and 12% respectively. If this is accurate, then it represents a tremendous surge by Handel, who was at 10% in a poll conducted just a month earlier. This Insider Advantage poll may be an outlier, though, in light of the fact that another poll released just a few days before showed Handel in third place behind Perdue and Kingston. Whatever the truth is, though, the linked article is correct that the race right now is basically a race for second place to see who gets to face David Perdue in the runoff election in July. If it indeed turns out that Kingston is the one who slips into that position, then May will end up being a bad month for the Tea Party.