For those of us who have known and admired Michelle Nunn for a long time, there’s been a slight undertone of sadness about her Senate campaign this year. Couldn’t she have made her first run for office in something other than a second-term midterm election in which Republicans had every imaginable advantage? Might she have waited until the demographics of the state turned Georgia officially purple, as they almost certainly will, perhaps in 2016?
I’m not (repeat: not) privy to her or her closest advisers’ thinking, but I can’t help but remember how cautious her father, my former boss, invariably was about political risk-taking. He had a grand total of one competitive Senate race–his first, in 1972. And here’s his daughter really taking the longest of long shots–and doing very well by all accounts.
Last night Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight devoted a post to the Nunn/Perdue race, mainly to marvel at how it’s become pretty much a true toss-up, one that’s very likely to go to a January runoff. Enten accurately notes that we really don’t have much evidence of how such a runoff would go–especially if control of the Senate is in play. Yes, it’s widely assumed white folks would turn out in higher numbers, just as they did in a 2008 Senate runoff in Georgia. But at that point partisan control (and even a Democratic super-majority) of the Senate was not a factor; African-American turnout was sure to go down after the excitement of Obama’s first election; and Democrat Jim Martin didn’t have a lot of the advantages, particularly in fundraising and name ID, that Nunn would enjoy.
Most importantly, I don’t know if anyone can predict what would happen if control is in question, if there’s also a runoff in Louisiana, and if partisans in Georgia are splitting time between a gubernatorial runoff in December (quite as likely as a Senate runoff, according to the most recent polls) and a Senate runoff in January. It’s all just uncharted territory. But I wouldn’t make any large bets against Michelle Nunn after the many disadvantages she’s already overcome. Enten doesn’t mention the strong possibility that the rarest of beasts, a late-breaking issue, could be affecting the numbers. But so far David Perdue has handled concerns about his involvement with “outsourcing” in a way that has simply exacerbated them. If I were a Republican, and particularly one familiar with the candidate’s foot-in-mouth tendencies (going back to a couple of bad ones in the GOP primaries), I’d be a little worried about what might be said between November and January, and how much money and effort it could take to unsay it.