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It's show time for Georgia's politicians

Posted: January 8, 2014 - 1:00am

It is far too early to predict who will replace Saxby Chambliss, but it’s going to be the most entertaining U.S. Senate race Georgia voters have seen in a long time.

The Democratic nominee will likely be Michelle Nunn. As the daughter of retired Sen. Sam Nunn, she should be able to raise more than enough money to win that primary.

The Republican side is the one to watch because you have five credible candidates who will be gouging and biting each other all the way to the May 20 primary.

The candidate who stands above all the rest is Rep. Paul Broun, the ultraconservative congressman who insists that the earth is only 9,000 years old and that the classes he took in medical school were all “lies straight from the pits of hell.”

The prospect of Broun winning the nomination is causing some sleepless nights for establishment Republicans. They are convinced his nomination will enable Democrats to win the Senate seat.

Broun doesn’t appear to be disturbed by those criticisms, however, and he is setting the standard that nearly every other candidate in this race is trying to achieve. Broun’s opponents have been trying to position themselves as being even more conservative than he is – a feat that just isn’t possible under the current laws of physics.

This has resulted in such developments as Rep. Jack Kingston, who had always been a somewhat moderate politician, demanding that poor children be forced to sweep out the cafeteria before they are allowed to eat a federally subsidized school lunch.

“Why don’t you have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch?” Kingston asked in a recent speech. “Or maybe sweep the floor of the cafeteria . . . think what we would gain as a society in getting people, getting the myth out of their head that there is such a thing as a free lunch.”

Kingston’s remarks were too much for one of the other Republicans in this primary race: David Perdue, the retired business executive who is a cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue.

“With all the nonsense worth criticizing in Washington right now, Congressman Kingston chose to ridicule children who, through no fault of their own, rely on free school lunches,” Perdue said.

Perdue set himself up as a moderate candidate with that comment, but Georgia Republicans are a very conservative group – it could hurt him.

Rep. Phil Gingrey has also been working hard to show voters he is even more conservative than Broun.

Gingrey may have gone a little too far, however, because he’s been scaring off his own people with some of his rhetoric. Four top staffers resigned from his campaign shortly after he complained that, as a member of Congress, “I’m stuck here making $172,000 a year.”

The other major Republican candidate is former secretary of state Karen Handel. Like Kingston, Handel was once a moderate Republican who even tried to win support from gay voters. She has become much more conservative over the past few years.

Handel’s weakness has been her inability to solicit cash contributions from her supporters. She lags behind candidates like Kingston and Gingrey in raising money, although her campaign aides contend she can overcome that with the help of grassroots organizations she put together in earlier statewide campaigns.

Broun doesn’t raise that much money either, but he has proved he doesn’t need a lot of money to win an election. His supporters are so committed to Broun that they would seemingly crawl naked over two miles of broken glass to cast their ballots for him.

At this point, the Republican primary looks like a battle among the four other candidates to see which one can make it into a runoff with Broun.

It’s going to be fun to watch the process unfold.

(Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an internet news service at gareport.com that reports on state government and politics. He can be reached at tcrawford@gareport.com.)

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