Public Policy Polling has the first survey out of the U.S. Senate race in my home state of Georgia after Democrat Michelle Nunn’s announcement of candidacy (disclaimer: I’m a longtime friend of Michelle’s, and worked for her father). It shows her actually running ahead of three major Republican candidates (Paul Broun, Karen Handel and Jack Kingston) and even with another (Phil Gingrey). The internals indicate that this surprisingly strong initial standing probably results from residual positive feelings about Michelle Nunn’s father, longtime Sen. Sam Nunn, and negative initial impressions of the Republican field.
This isn’t to say that Michelle Nunn won’t have a chance to rise or fall based on her own personality and message; but right now 61% of Georgians say they don’t know enough about her to form a favorable or unfavorable opinion. There are plenty of “not sure” numbers for the Republicans in the race as well, but among those with an opinion, all the GOPers are currently underwater, even before the first real “you’re a damn RINO” blows fall between them.
What I found most interesting is that the GOP candidates aren’t terribly popular even among self-identified Republicans. Phil Gingrey, who leads the straight-on preference poll for Republicans with 25%, weighs in at 33% favorable and 19% unfavorable among GOPers. Jack Kingston (15% preference) is barely above even at 25/21. But Karen Handel (13% preference) is at 26/29, and Paul Broun (19% preference) is at 19/22.
Now it is almost universally anticipated that the GOP primary will be a noisy and extended affair (with a runoff very likely), probably driven by the fiery Broun, who is prone to attacking anyone to the left of him as a sell-out if not an actual Pawn of Satan. None of the candidates is terribly warm-and-fuzzy. Before her national notoriety as the antichoice St. Joan of the Komen Foundation, Handel lost a fairly nasty gubernatorial runoff in 2010. Gingrey is likely to run as Broun Lite, and Kingston is a very conventional pol whose big problem is his membership on the House Appropriations Committee. If I had to bet right now, I’d predict a runoff between Broun, who has the most intense base of support, and Handel, who has statewide name ID and a base smack in the middle of the richest primary voting area. That’s a runoff almost certain to be an ideologically wild grudge match.
But no matter who emerges from the Republican scrum, it will be someone with baggage and damage and quite possibly a depleted treasury. That’s why national Democrats (and more quietly, national Republicans) talk of Georgia as a red-state wild-card in 2014. And with the Senate landscape tilting steadily away from Democrats in recent months (mainly thanks to non-candidacies in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia), it could become a very big deal next year. That Nunn begins on even ground before her Republican rivals begin tearing each other apart and trying to outflank each other on the right is a good if very early sign for Democrats.