Republican chances of regaining the Senate are on the rise but if a new poll out of Georgia is to be believed their chances are smaller than first thought. Fortunately, the new Atlanta Journal Constitutional poll is hard to believe. The poll finds Democratic frontrunner Michelle Nunn leading all GOP rivals for the open seat. The retirement of Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss opened up a potentially competitive Senate seat in the state in mid 2013.
Democrats immediately courted Nunn successfully while a bevy of GOP candidates, Congresmen Jack Kingston, Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey, former Secretary of State Karen Handel and businessman David Perdue, representing all wings of the party announced their intentions. Democrats argue that Nunn is a unique candidate able to drive minority turnout and yet appeal to centrist Republican and Independent voters. Republican strategists counter the toxic national environment and the more recent trend of Perdue and moderate conservative Kingston leading the field indicates at least one of their most appealing candidates will meet Nunn. Early polls have shown Nunn running competitively or leading all Republicans, including firebrands Gingrey and Broun. But it is a more recent survey done for the Atlanta Journal Constitution that should raise eyebrows. If the poll is true, it shows Nunn is a powerhouse in her own right and is a possible favorite to take the seat for Democrats. But before this can be discerned one must look at this particular poll and determine whether it is accurate or not.
The poll followed solid methodology but its sample is heavily skewed. Specifically, the poll finds that more voters identify as Democrats than Republicans and Independents. Considering the woes that Democrats have mobilizing their base it is hard to believe that Democrats are more mobilized than Republican voters in the ruby-red state. Consider, in 2012 in a year where the national environment favored Democrats, Obama still lost the state by seven points, largely due to his weakness among centrist white voters. Nunn leads among independents against all her challengers except Perdue. The poll, despite its favorable Democratic sample, does indicate problems for Nunn, When leaners are included, a majority of leaning Independents favor all GOP candidates. Further, a solid majority of voters favor repeal or significant modifications to the ACA. Lastly, President Obama is underwater in approval in the state.
Nunn has been a prolific fundraiser and has only been outraised by Kingston. She also is attempting to play on her father’s, four term Senator Sam Nunn, appeal in the state. Businessman David Perdue also hails from strong political roots in the state. Perdue’s father, Sonny Perdue, served as Governor from 2003 to 2011 and knocked out the state’s last Democratic Governor in 2002. Congressmen Broun, Gingrey and Kingston all have strong ties to the state but their strengths are regional as opposed to statewide.
Nunn has made it clear how her campaign plans to proceed. Run against DC, including her party’s President, and the GOP Congress by promising to be an independent voice for the state. Her campaign hopes to drive turnout in metro Atlanta and appeal to enough suburban and rural white voters to get 50% plus one. Whether this can be done is an open question as the electorate in November is all but assured not to be of the composition of the AJC survey. In both 2008 and 2012 Democrats maximized turnout in the state and yet still lost both the Presidential race (7 points) and the initial 2008 Senate race (3 points). In the subsequent run-off Republican Saxby Chambliss won by 15 points.
The 2008 election stands out because Jim Martin, despite benefiting from strong Democratic turnout, only managed to garner 46% of the vote in November. This was in the midst of strong Democratic turnout in a pro-Democratic environment. The environment is far less favorable to Democrats and Obama is not on the top of the ticket. Assuredly, Nunn is a stronger candidate than Martin but even her appeal is limited. In 2008, Obama won a mere 23% of white voters while also winning an astonishing 98% of black voters. Against all GOP opponents Nunn does not garner more than 40% of the white vote and more importantly against Perdue and Kingston she only wins 28% of white voters. She also only pulls in about 80% of the black vote. Despite the positives this poll presents for Nunn it also shows the challenges she faces, assuming a friendly electorate shows up in November. Unfortunately for Nunn this is unlikely to occur.
There is ample evidence presented in this blog and numerous analytic outlets that show the Democratic base is unexcited and the GOP base is excited. Further, Independents are leaning more than ever to the GOP. There is little evidence to support the assertion this is not also occurring in Georgia. Combine this with the President and his signature policy achievement’s weakness among the state’s voters and Nunn is likely to have to strongly outperform expectations to win. No, not strongly outperform, overwhelmingly outperform.