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Democrats are hanging on for dear life in the South, but they hope to have found an unexpected opportunity in the Peach State. The race to fill the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., will test whether Democrats can survive there, and it could help determine which party controls the Senate in 2015.
Republicans endured a chaotic seven-way primary and an intensely negative runoff that extended their in-fighting for an extra two months. Former Dollar General CEO David Perdue, cousin of former governor Sonny Perdue, emerged from that July 22 runoff as the party’s nominee, after he and rival Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., saturated Georgia’s airwaves with negative TV ads. Perdue has run as a political outsider with business experience, and while Kingston attacked all the predictable downsides of a resume speckled with corporate leadership positions--lost jobs, a bailout--Perdue showed durability as a candidate and weathered the attacks. General-election polling released after the primary showed Perdue holding a lead over his Democratic rival.
Michelle Nunn, the Democratic nominee, has a few things working in her favor: The daughter of well-respected former Sen. Sam Nunn, she’s a member of a Georgia political dynasty and she has the freedom to raise serious cash. She has the help of the network of deep pockets she cultivated as head of George H.W. Bush’s Points of Light organization, the Democratic women’s group, EMILY’s List, and even some of her dad’s old Republican friends, such as former Sen. John Warner, R-Va., and former Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind. Her campaign has faced one snag already, as The National Review published a leaked campaign strategy memo that revealed strategists’ concerns that some voters could see her as a “lightweight,” “too liberal,” or “not a real Georgian.”
Despite accelerating demographic and political changes that could eventually turn Georgia into a battleground state, Republicans still have the upper hand there. An extended primary saw an extra two months of negative ads focused on Perdue, while Nunn faced few attacks and aired positive ads about herself, but it’s unclear whether or not the long primary damaged Perdue as Democrats had hoped it would.