ATLANTA — Michelle Nunn has had a good couple of weeks lately, and observers say the political newcomer has a near-certain lock on the Democratic senatorial nomination.
Not only that, her strength in next fall’s general election has grown, too, they say.
Consider these developments. Attorney Art Gardner became the eighth candidate in the field for the GOP nomination Oct. 9, increasing the odds of a heated, expensive primary and runoff that will leave that party’s nominee bloodied and broke going into the general election.
Two Republicans, Karen Handel and Eugene Yu, have even begun airing commercials already with small ad buys. His attack federal spending in television and mailers, but Handel’s have tweaked her fellow Republicans in statewide radio spots.
And the more the Republicans scramble to the right, the more they leave open to her the middle where swing voters live, according to Steve Anthony, a Georgia State University professor and former director of the Democratic Party of Georgia.
The biggest news, though, has been the latest fundraising results in which she outdistanced all other contenders in either party, by nearly $1 million over the next most successful candidate. That nearly ensures her nomination because Branko Radulovacki and Steen Miles have raised too little to even gain name recognition, much less dampen Nunn’s momentum.
“I’m very impressed with $1.7 million. It’s very credible,” said Calvin Smyre, a Columbus legislator and former Democratic Party chairman who has tried for years to convince her to run. “The fact that she’s raised what she’s raised and putting together a statewide network, I feel like it’s Democrats’ best opportunity.”
She’ll have enough of a primary to get news coverage, exposure in debates and the opportunity to run unchallenged ads defining herself while the Republicans are using up all of their money beating each other up. But she’ll have a huge cash reserve for the general election while the GOP nominee will need to devote attention to raising more.
Speaking of fights, Nunn supporters believe she got a little boost from the government shutdown.
“From a political standpoint, I think that helps her,” Smyre said.
A survey released last week by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling showed her even against an unnamed GOP opponent and six points ahead when the question says the Republican supported the shutdown. Some Republicans have questioned the poll’s methodology, but even if it’s off by a handful of points, it shows she’s in the game.
As an outsider, she will argue she’s not part of the dysfunction in Congress and that, instead, her experience as the head of a national, bipartisan charity demonstrates the ability to bring people together. Of course, gaining agreement among people volunteering for a charity is easier than deal making among ideological opposites over the federal budget, healthcare and taxes.
The election won’t hinge on the government shutdown or Nunn’s support of bombing Syria, Anthony says. It will come down to pocketbook issues, and he believes she’ll have an advantage there as a mother and a fresh face.
One veteran political operative who recently joined her staff said he’s never seen so many volunteers in a campaign headquarters this early in a race.
Smyre senses the excitement as well.
“I can feel upbeat and the interest in her election,” he said. “I felt it all along, but what happened in Washington and the fundraising has made it more so.”
(Walter Jones is the Atlanta bureau chief for Morris News and has been covering Georgia politics since 1998. Follow him on Twitter @MorrisNews and Facebook or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and (404) 589-8424.)