Most Georgia voters don’t know a lot about Michelle Nunn, aside from the fact that she has a father, Sam, who was a U.S. senator for 24 years.
The electorate will find out more about her as the Senate race progresses. One thing already evident is that Nunn’s candidacy is generating some very strange and intense reactions among activists from both parties.
Nunn leaked the announcement of her campaign with the kind of mushy message you often hear from candidates deluded enough to think they can bridge the gaping partisan divide in this country: She’s going to “reach across the aisle” and end the “partisan gridlock” in Washington so that we can “unleash America’s spirit of innovation.”
There was nothing original or particularly inspiring about the words, but Nunn’s entry into the race evidently scared the daylights out of some Republicans, judging from the frantic tone of statements they distributed to the media.
Karen Handel, one of the Republican Senate candidates, quickly denounced Nunn as “President Obama's liberal, handpicked candidate” in an email soliciting contributions to help defeat this alleged supporter of “Harry Reid's liberal agenda.”
“Thanks to your friend President Obama, a tank of gas costs an ‘arm and a leg’ these days (which is NOT covered by ObamaCare) so don't forget to cash those fat checks from your liberal buddies in Washington before you hit the road!” the Georgia Republican Party taunted.
“Those who know Michelle Nunn agree that politically she is a liberal in the mold of Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama who supports ObamaCare, higher taxes, and a bigger more invasive government,” warned the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
On the other side, Democrats were reacting as if they had just witnessed the second coming of Jesus Christ. In an outpouring of Tweets and Facebook postings, Democrats declared how “excited” they were about Nunn and predicted that Georgians would line up to vote for her because she was the daughter of the sainted Sam Nunn.
For them, Nunn is the heroic outsider who will slay the Republican nominee and magically revitalize a Democratic Party that was recently ranked as one of the seven most dysfunctional state parties in the U.S.
“What a breath of fresh air she would be on Capitol Hill!” said U.S. Rep. John Lewis, in a typical statement. “If there was ever a time that we needed Michelle's leadership, dedication and compassion in Washington, it's right now.”
With all due respect to both sides, let’s have a reality check.
While she has done commendable work as the head of a volunteer service organization, Nunn has never run for political office, has never organized a statewide campaign, and has never been elected to anything. Her political experience ranges somewhere between minimal and nonexistent.
It’s true that her father was once an esteemed figure in Georgia politics, but the last time Sam Nunn ran for the Senate was back in 1990. This means that voters under the age of 40 – and there are a lot of them -- have never seen the name “Nunn” on an election ballot and don’t really care who Sam Nunn was.
Georgia also is still very conservative and Republican-leaning. Yes, Obama once got 47 percent of the vote here, but in the last off-year election in 2010, every statewide election was won decisively by the Republicans. Every Democrat running statewide that year drew less than 44 percent of the vote – in some cases, that total was less than 40 percent.
There are basically four Republicans with the best chance of getting the Senate nomination. If Handel or Jack Kingston wins the GOP primary, the Senate race is over and Nunn loses big time in November.
If one of the more extreme candidates like Paul Broun or Phil Gingrey is the Republican nominee, Nunn might have an outside shot at winning the general election. It would be a small chance, but it would at least be a possibility.
I don’t think Michelle Nunn is the political savior Democrats are hoping she will be. She is also not the potential destroyer of Western civilization that Republicans claim she is.
She probably won’t be the person who replaces Saxby Chambliss in the Senate, either.
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report at gareport.com. His column appears Wednesdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.