If you wanted a pretty good laboratory experiment of the “Year of the Republican Establishment” narrative, it might be in today’s three Georgia U.S. House GOP runoffs, all occurring in districts easily carried by Mitt Romney in 2012. There’s a clear-cut “constitutional conservative” in all three. And while their opponents aren’t exactly anybody’s idea of a “moderate,” they do tend to howl at the moon a bit less and also treat conservative ideology more in transactional terms (10th district “Establishment” candidate Mike Collins, for example, seems to think he only needs to represent his fellow business owners) than as an eternal edict of Jesus Christ and Thomas Jefferson.
The easiest call, and perhaps the most revealing contest, is in Phil Gingrey’s GA-11, where con-con state senator Barry Loudermilk ran comfortably ahead of former congressman Bob Barr in the primary, and should win today. I’ve written about Loudermilk for a good while; he’s in many respects a calmer version of Paul Broun. It tells you a lot that in his desperation Barr, the 2008 presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party, has staked his runoff campaign on arguing Loudermilk can’t be trusted to bring home the military-industrial complex bacon for Dobbins Air Force Base and Lockheed-Martin.
Speaking of Paul Broun, the runoff to choose his successor features the aforementioned Mike Collins, a trucking company exec, and the fiery Baptist minister and radio talk show host Jody Hice. Hice narrowly ran first in the primary, and more importantly, was recently endorsed by Broun. His whole act is very much a freak-show in the Broun tradition, and I’d be a bit surprised if he didn’t win.
The hardest runoff to call is in Kingston’s GA-01, where turnout will likely be higher than elsewhere thanks to Kingston’s own GOTV effort. The top primary finisher and presumed “Establishment” favorite is state senator Buddy Carter. But con-con Bob Johnson (who styles himself “Dr. Bob–Christian conservative”) has gotten generous help from the Club for Growth (which has run attack ads on Carter with the tag-line “Hey Buddy–You’re Liberal!”) and an endorsement from Sarah Palin. I’d pick him to win if turnout in the 1st was a low as it’s likely to be elsewhere.
As I noted after the primary, the general assumption that Georgia’s visibly nutty GOP congressional delegation would lose some of its lurid character with the unsuccessful Senate candidacies of Broun and Gingrey might have been premature.