Posts tagged "Georgia"

MACON, Ga. – 2014 is a Republican year. The party has the map, the candidates, and the money to finally retake the Senate after blowing the last two tries by nominating weak ultra-conservative candidates in critical races. And there’s no way that’s happening again, right?

Not if Georgia has anything to say about it.

The solid red state is shaping up as a key boost to Democratic hopes of retaining the Senate thanks to a GOP primary field both sides believe could produce a nominee too hobbled, too extreme, or too gaffe-prone to win in November.

The candidate causing the biggest headache is Paul Broun, a four-term GOP congressman who opposes abortion without exception, thinks the Big Bang and evolution are “lies straight from the pit of hell,” (gravity waves be damned), and likened President Obama to Hitler and Karl Marxbefore he was even inaugurated.

Then there’s fellow Rep. Phil Gingrey, a doctor who suggested last year that Todd Akin was “partly right” about his theories on “legitimate rape” (Gingrey later apologized).

Even if Broun and Gingrey come up short in the state’s May 20 primary, Democrats are hoping a close race will pull the entire GOP field, which also includes Rep. Jack Kingston, former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, and wealthy businessman David Perdue, uncomfortably to the right. 

In normal circumstances, even a weak GOP nominee would probably be a shoo-in in this conservative state. But Democrats have drafted an unusually strong candidate in Michelle Nunn, whose father Sam Nunn is still revered here for his 25-year career in the Senate.

“What a lot of people don’t understand about the Republicans in Georgia is that up to 2002 a lot of them had a ‘D’ next to their name,” Erick Erickson, the Red State founder who briefly flirted with running himself, said. “They’re very comfortable with names like Carter and Nunn.”

Republicans are bracing for a rough ride, knowing their candidates will battle each other through the primary and likely July 22 runoff while Nunn soaks up a deluge of cash and attention unimpeded.

“One of the people on this stage tonight is going to be your Republican nominee, and after this primary and the runoff they are going to be bruised, battered and broke,” conservative radio host Martha Zoller told the audience at a Republican Senate debate in Macon earlier this month.

Polling is all over the map right now: A survey by Democratic firm Public Policy Polling right before the Macon debate found Broun opening up a double digit lead in the primary, with 27% support to 14% for Gingrey and the rest roughly tied for third place, while a slightly more recent poll by SurveyUSA put Perdue at 29%, Kingston at 19%, and the rest hovering around 10% support.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. For two election cycles in a row, Republicans have almost taken the Senate only to watch flawed candidates like Christine O’Donnell in Delaware in 2010 and Todd Akin in Missouri in 2012 cost them winnable races.

On the Democratic side, Georgia is one of only two top tier pickup opportunities, the other being Kentucky where polls show Republican Leader Mitch McConnell in trouble. For both parties, the path to a Senate majority runs directly through the Peach State.

“It’s an uphill battle in the Senate, but one of the things we have going for us is that Republicans might keep being the gift that keeps on giving and say one outrageous remark,” Jim Manley, a former top aide to Majority Leader Harry Reid, told msnbc.

Race to the right

Georgia’s Republican primary doesn’t fit into a neatly wrapped establishment vs. tea party narrative (think Rand Paul versus Trey Grayson in Kentucky in 2010) or moderate vs. conservative (like Charlie Crist versus Marco Rubio in Florida in 2010.) Any GOP candidate aspiring to statewide office here knows you have to be pro-life, pro-gun, anti-Obamacare, anti-taxes, and willing to play ball with the grassroots in order to stand a chance.

“We’re not identical, but I don’t think there’s a nickel’s worth of difference in our bona fides on the conservative side,” Perdue said in an interview. 

This is pretty much the consensus among the field. “It’s certainly a conservative group,” Gingrey said. 

Broun, nicknamed “Dr. No” for his constant ideological votes against House leadership, conceded to msnbc that, “certainly all our Republicans are conservative to one degree or another.”

Even a candidate like Kingston, who is often pegged as the field’s “establishment” guy, boasts strong ratings from conservative groups, supported an earmark ban under President George W. Bush, and received tea party supportin his failed attempt to take over the Appropriations Committee. Lately, he’s proposed requiring public school students to perform janitorial work in exchange for free lunches.  

His biggest sin in the eyes of some activists is having been in Congress a long time: Handel has gone after him for voting for large spending bills over the years with earmarks attached for things like the Edward Kennedy Institute in Massachusetts.

“It’s kind of easy to vote ‘no,’ but to actually cut a budget you have to go ahead and get in the arena and you get a little mud on your face,” Kingston said in an interview.

With the entire group starting so far to the right, it can be hard for any one candidate to stand out. Still, they try their best.

Everyone supports the Second Amendment, for example, but only Broun’s campaign has raffled off an AR-15, the semi-automatic rifle made infamous by the Newtown school massacre. The whole field wants to get rid of Obamacare, but only Gingrey has promised not to run for re-election if he hasn’t successfully repealed it in one Senate term. Gingrey and Kingston have joined Broun in regularly voting against Republican bills from the right in order to prevent any one of them from gaining separation.

In debates, the candidates emphasize their biographical distinctions while competing with each other for the most anti-liberal sound bites. The Macon forum, for example, was a Russian nesting doll of populist conservative resentment.

Kingston attacked Harry Reid while Gingrey condemned “rap music,” Hollywood, and trashy music videos for corrupting the youth (“What does the federal government do about it?Nothing!”). Broun accused Gingrey and Kingston of being typical Washington Republicans (“What separates me from my two colleagues here: I’ve never requested an earmark.”). Handel said all three have served too many terms in Washington (“[They] had a combined 42 years to do everything they’re talking about!”) Perdue went after the three of them plus Handel for having held elected office at all (“If you like what’s going on in Washington, pick one of those four politicians.”). 

“It’s been halfway a contest to see who can dislike Barack Obama more,” Todd Rehm, a Republican strategist and editor of, told msnbc.

Each candidate is also skilled enough to know exactly when to pull back from the anti-government jeremiads, namely when the topic turns to federal spending inside Georgia.

All the major contenders are incensed that Obama has yet to approve funding for a project to deepen the port in Savannah. At the Macon debate, Broun said the state needs more highways while Perdue bemoaned the lack of infrastructure spending in recent years. Asked about potential military base closures that could harm the state’s economy, Broun said the country requires more warships, more planes, and a bigger standing army while Kingston boasted: “I don’t want to kill a fly with a sledgehammer, I want to kill a fly with five sledgehammers.”

Culture clash

The candidates are well aware of party fears that they’ll produce the next Todd Akin and steer clear of social issues when possible. Even Broun is putting the fire and brimstone on ice for now. 

“We’re not going to be voting in the Senate on my religious beliefs,” Broun told msnbc. “We’re going to be voting on trying to shrink the size and scope of government.”

Just because the campaign isn’t wading deep into social issues today doesn’t mean things will stay that way.

Nobody knows how fast things can zoom to the right better than Handel, whose 2010 run for governor turned on the kinds of esoteric culture wars that make national party leaders cringe. Then-candidate Nathan Deal relentlessly attacked Handel for her past association with the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay GOP group, while the abortion fight wandered into extreme territory.

Georgia Right to Life, the state’s most prominent anti-abortion group, opposed Handel because she favored exceptions to an abortion ban in cases of rape and incest and because she supported in vitro fertility treatments. Handel hit back hard, calling her own unsuccessful attempts to have children “the single greatest disappointment in my life.”

GRTL president Dan Becker accused Handel of using her personal grief over being “barren” and “infertile” to justify taking innocent lives. She ended up losing by only about 2,500 votes.

Today, Handel is one of the most famous (or infamous, depending on your views) anti-abortion advocates in the country, and the battle looks somewhat ridiculous as a result. After leaving government, she took a job as vice president for public policy with Susan G. Komen, the breast cancer advocacy group. There she led the group in cutting funding to Planned Parenthood for mammogram screenings, sparking a backlash that ended with her resignation.

“In the governor’s race I wasn’t pro-life enough, fast forward and I became too pro-life,” Handel told msnbc. “My life is a string of ironies, what can I say?” 

This time around, the only Senate hopeful to win GRTL’s endorsement is Broun, which he secured by refusing to vote for a ban on abortions after 20 weeks supported by the National Right To Life Committee. That’s because the bill, which Gingrey and Kingston supported, included rape and incest exceptions.

Republican strategists are skeptical if GRTL still has the same clout it once did, but if Broun wins it will be because he managed to rally the most hardcore anti-abortion and pro-gun activists to his side. Primary races – and especially runoffs – are low turnout affairs in Georgia, which can lead to upsets for candidates with motivated supporters. Broun won his own Congressional seat in 2007 by defeating a heavily favored Republican opponent in a sleepy special election runoff. 

“If it’s Paul Broun in the runoff, I think Republicans in Washington collectively soil themselves,” Red State’s Erickson said.

Money talks

Democrats are hoping Broun will stay competitive enough to push everyone to the right, but his candidacy could also have a freeing effect: if his rivals assume that Broun has a lock on the most conservative primary voters, they might turn their attention to winning moderate Republicans, many of whom are concentrated in the Atlanta suburbs.

Perdue, the former CEO of Dollar General and Reebok and cousin of former GOP Gov. Sonny Perdue, is betting on this theory. While conventionally conservative on the major issues in the race, he’s positioning himself as a relatively non-ideological outsider. He has been critical of Senator Ted Cruz’s recent efforts to use the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip, for example, which he warns could frighten investors. While strongly opposed to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, he’s said that he favors working with Democrats to amend it instead of the usual repeal calls. 

“I don’t believe I have to give up my conservative ideals to offer up a compromise position in order to get progress,” he told msnbc. “I’d rather take an 85% solution on the economic issues then sit here and get 0%.”

Perdue bears more than a passing resemblance to Mitt Romney, another well-coifed candidate from a political family who ran for office on his record in the private sector. Unlike Romney, whose complex buyout deals became a liability, Perdue’s most successful business ventures are easier to explain and quantify: his boast that he created 20,000 jobs while running Dollar General passes muster with Politifact, for example. 

Perdue’s personal wealth means he can self-fund and his polling surge has come during a period where he dominated the airwaves with an ad casting his four main opponents as crying babies. He’s uniquely problematic for Handel, who ascended the ranks of Georgia politics as a protégé of Sonny Perdue. The former governor is now backing his cousin’s campaign and Handel has struggled to raise cash without his network. Broun, who has never been popular with big donors, had just $187,000 cash on hand at the end of 2013.

Money matters a lot in Georgia campaigns, where advertising in the Atlanta media market is expensive. Kingston had $3.42 million in the same filing period thanks to a significant war chest left over from past campaign and Gingrey had $2.36 million, giving both the potential for a serious run.

Breaking from the PAC 

In another time, Broun’s lack of funds might have been disqualifying. But in the era of the super PAC, all it takes is one advocacy group or wealthy patron to vault a candidate into contention.

“That is the big question mark, whether the super PACs come in,” Joel McElhannon, a Georgia Republican strategist, told msnbc. “It has the potential to be a big game changer.”

Right now, the outside spending scene resembles Europe 1914, with the major powers – anti-establishment groups like Club For Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund on one side, more traditional pro-business groups like the Chamber of Commerce and American Crossroads on the other – staying tentatively neutral while events play out on the ground. If any one of them decides to enter the race, however, it could suck them all into a massive air war.

McElhannon raised another possibility: Democrats might pour money into a super PAC of their own to boost Broun’s chances. It’s less paranoid than it sounds. In 2012, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill helped ensure Akin got the GOP nomination in Missouri with winking “attack” ads highlighting his conservative positions for Republican primary voters. 

The party line among state and national Democratic officials right now is that Georgia’s GOP candidates are equally flawed, but some leaders have cheered Broun on fairly openly in the past.

“If there is a living God, we’ll be facing him as the Republican nominee in November of 2014,” Mike Berlon, then-chairman of the state Democratic party, told USA Today last year. “Unfortunately, we’re probably not that lucky.” 


h/t: Benjy Sarlin at MSNBC


Governor Nathan Deal (R) of Georgia thinks wants to repeal the law requiring ERs to treat emergencies and just let those poor people die.


Child labor, impeachment, legitimate rape: This has got to be one of the craziest elections ever.

Michelle Nunn has to be the favorite, if she’s running against Paul Broun or Phil Gingrey. 

The issues:

The Georgia Senate race is proving how difficult it is for Republicans to ditch the party’s extremist image. In fact, they risk repeating 2012 mistakes where Tea Party candidates proved too far right for voters, like in the cases of Indiana’s Richard Murdouck and Todd Akin.

It’s still early in the seven-way Republican primary for Georgia Senate — a field including Reps. Phil Gingrey, Jack Kingston and Paul Broun, as well as former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel. The candidates have only held three of seven debates three months before the primary, but they have already taken controversial stands on positions ranging from defending child labor to impeaching the president.

Legitimate rape “partially right”: Gingrey, a self-described pro-life OB-GYN and former House Science committee member, defended Todd Akin’s infamous comments on women’s bodies shutting down pregnancy when there is a “legitimate rape.” Gingrey said Akin was “partially right wasn’t he?”

No immigration reform, but yes to English as official language: Most of the field oppose immigration reform and the three House members running for the seat are on the record to deport undocumented youth. But in the last debate, Broun said, “The only new law I’d like to see passed is one that makes English the official language of America.” Handel is the exception, recently softening her position on reform and calling out fellow Republicans for their laser-like focus on the U.S.-Mexican border and ignoring other problems.

Impeach Obama: At a debate, Broun, a birther, called for Obama’s impeachment for so-called perjuring “himself on multiple occasions” (candidate Derrick Grayson agreed).

Minority voter outreach: During the last presidential election, Gingrey denounced Democratic minority outreach efforts as “worse than sad.” His colleague Broun has described the Civil War as the “War of Yankee Aggression,” and expressed surprise when airport security didn’t profile a “Middle Eastern” man and him go “right through” security.

Make low-income kids work for lunch: Jack Kingston suggested low-income students sweep cafeteria floors because there’s “no such thing as free lunch.” Yet the congressman has expensed hundreds of thousands of dollars in free meals on the campaign trail and in taxpayer dollars.

Evolution “lies straight from the pit of hell”: Broun, who sits on the House Science committee, denies climate change and said that evolution, embryology, and the Big Bang theory are “all lies straight from the pit of hell.” He’s not the only creationist: Kingston once said, “I believe I came from God, not from a monkey so the answer is no. I don’t believe that a creature crawled out of the sea and became a human being one day.”

Gun giveaways: In January, Broun raffled off an AR-15, the same gun model used to murder 26 children and adults in Newtown.

Obamacare helps people with “hang nails”: According to Gingrey, the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act was “one of the worst decisions in Supreme Court history.” Gingrey dismissed the law’s protection of pre-existing medical conditions as nothing more than protecting people with “hang nails and fever blisters.”

Georgia Republican congressman and Senate candidate Paul Broun has been trying to out-extreme his opponents on the issue of immigration reform, announcing in a debate this weekend that the only immigration law he wants is one “that makes English the official language of America.” In an interview with Tea Party Express earlier this month, Broun made the same policy recommendation, claiming that comprehensive immigration reform would be “disastrous for Republicans” and “disastrous for anybody who is freedom-loving.”

Later in the interview, Broun claimed that “both political parties today are domestic enemies to the Constitution” and that he is a “freedom-fighter” who is “fighting those people.”

h/t: Miranda Blue at Right Wing Watch

He’ll be a guaranteed winner in the GOP Primary and the runoff, but a big loser in November, when Michelle Nunn will trounce him silly. 

h/t: Scott Keyes at Think Progress Election


Remember that if Nunn is to win, she is to do so in November by winning 50%+1 of the vote to avoid a December runoff that cost Jim Martin a chance to dethrone Saxby Chambliss over 6 years ago. 

h/t: Daniel Strauss at TPM


Here’s the initial Facebook post:

Hey Atlanta! Quit whining about how inconvenient the last few days have been. It’s called earth and weather and it does what it wants. On the west coast it make the ground shake and makes buildings and bridges fall on you. On the gulf coast the oceans swallows miles of land and blows trees homes to smithereens. In the Midwest funnels pick up cars, houses and people and rip them to pieces. In the north the snow is measured in meters and the temperatures make things like ears fall off. So stop complaining about your long commute home….at least it was still there when you finally arrived.

In the comments section of the post Wilheit also wrote: 

Sick of the whining. The “men” in Atlanta need to drink less cosmotinis and forget about ever getting another pedicure. Be a man like the guy who hiked 6 miles through the snow and ice to be with his daughter. Spend more time in nature and less time bitching about it. If more people had not panicked and bolted out of the office at noon we would not have gridlocked the highways and the DOT could have treated them. I left my office in Gainesville at 7:15pm. Checked traffic reports. Found a good route home and traveled 50 miles in 1.5 hours.

Deal said to reporters earlier in the week, “We don’t want to be accused of crying wolf. Because if we had been wrong, y’all would have all been in here saying, ‘Do you know how many millions of dollars you cost the economies of the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia by shutting down businesses all over this city and this state?’”

Wilheit joined Kingston’s campaign last April.

(H/t Atlanta Journal Constitution)

(Photo credit: Facebook)

ATLANTA — If there’s a formula for winning as a Democrat in Georgia, Michelle Nunn thinks she’s found it: Don’t sound like a liberal, hold your Republican friends close, and never leave a loose end hanging.

The 47-year-old daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn is running as an earnest, pro-business centrist in a solidly red state, drawing national attention and raising millions of dollars.

For Democrats, she represents the strongest opportunity to capture a Senate seat that Republicans have held for the last decade. The most recent poll has her tied or leading all of her potential opponents.

Much is riding on her candidacy: If Nunn can use her famous name, middle-of-the-road message, and campaign discipline to turn Georgia purple, Senate Democrats are much more likely to hold onto their slim majority in a tough election year.

Republicans insist Georgia voters are conservative to the core and won’t be fooled by a candidate who’s already entered the embrace of Washington Democrats. Nunn, who’s never run for office before, is taking little for granted.

Volunteering at an Atlanta food bank before Christmas, Nunn carried out her role meticulously, squinting at the expiration date on the bottom of every can she sorted through.

She zeroed in on every stranger she passed, greeting them warmly with a handshake. She stood at attention with her hands behind her back, leaning in as employees described the intricacies of food distribution. After the event, she tried to make good on a promise of donuts for her children, aged 9 and 11, in exchange for coming along, striding over to the family car as it was leaving the parking lot.

With her wire-rimmed glasses, slight frame, and unassuming air, Nunn projects a sober, bookish sense of purpose. Democratic strategist Ed Kilgore, who worked for Nunn’s father, recalls accompanying the family to a conference in New Orleans while Michelle was still in her 20s. He asked Michelle’s mother what her daughter might like to do while they were there.

“Michelle?” Colleen Nunn said. “Michelle doesn’t like to have fun.”

Georgia Democrats had pleaded with Nunn to run for office for years, wringing their hands as the state turned deep red. Since 2010, Republicans have held every major statewide office in Georgia—the first time they’ve done so since Reconstruction—and many residents are skeptical that change is coming any time soon.

But the state’s shifting demographics could tip that balance as more African-Americans have returned to the South and the immigrant population has grown in recent years. That’s prompted another Georgia Democrat with a famous last name—Jason Carter—to jump into the governor’s race. But right now, Democrats in Georgia and Washington alike believe that Nunn is their best shot at a comeback.

Born in Perry, Georgia, where her grandfather was once mayor, Nunn spent most of her childhood in the suburbs of Washington D.C. while her father served in Congress. After graduating from the University of Virginia, she became what she now calls the “glorified intern-slash-executive director” of Hands On Atlanta, a fledging volunteer service group. In 2001, she received a Master’s from Harvard’s Kennedy School and married Ron Martin, who works in real estate. 


Supporters acknowledge that Nunn is not a conservative southern Democrat of yore. “The question that comes up is, ‘Is she more liberal than her old man?’ I think the answer is yes. But certainly the Georgia Democratic Party is too,” said Kilgore, a long-time friend of Michelle’s. “He self-identified as a conservative, not as a moderate or centrist. That kind of Democrat barely exists in the state anymore.”

Kilgore still believes she is a natural dealmaker, and Nunn herself insists that her professional track record proves she’s willing and able to extend a hand to Republicans. But of all policy issues, volunteer service may be among the least controversial and most anodyne—the thing that most everyone can agree upon.

The 2014 political landscape is a minefield for red-state Democrats like Nunn. Obamacare is the ultimate test of her determination to run as a no-nonsense, above-the-fray independent.

Nunn is quick to point out that she was “one of the first people to come out” for a delay of the individual mandate after problems emerged with the website. When asked whether Obamacare can ultimately succeed, she neither defends nor attacks the law wholesale, declining to cast judgment on it one way or the other.

“My focus has been on what we can do to actually fix this. We need to make health care work for Americans, and we need to do whatever it is to do that.” But she believes Georgia should embrace Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, which the GOP governor turned down.

Like her father, Nunn considers herself a deficit hawk and says Democrats haven’t been flexible enough on entitlement reform. She personally supports gay marriage but agrees with the Supreme Court that the definition of marriage should be left to the states. Endorsed by the pro-choice EMILY’s List, Nunn has said abortion should be “safe, legal and rare and that women should be ultimately able to make this very difficult personal decision in concert with their doctor and their family.” 

And when she openly sides with Democrats, she’s careful to couch her support in terms that conservative voters might find palatable: No additional food stamp cuts—but tackling hunger will require “public-private partnerships,” not just federal money. Sequestration is terrible, she argues, and then points to the damage it has done to Robins Air Force Base. The shutdown was wrong, and she blames all sides for the dysfunction in Washington.

“I think both parties have some responsibility for the partisan gridlock, so we need people who are interested in finding common ground,” she concludes.

The Nunn campaign is hoping that her measured tone will draw a sharp contrast with her eventual Republican opposition.

The Senate primary is set for May 20, and the GOP field is already crowded with contenders. In addition to former Secretary of State Karen Handel, who’s considered the moderate choice, the field also includes staunch conservatives.

Among them are Rep. Paul Broun, who recently said the only way Georgia would turn purple is if “illegal aliens” had to the right to vote, and Rep. Phil Gingrey, who said Todd Akin was “partly right” in his infamous claim about “legitimate rape.” Rep. Jack Kingston recently suggested that low-income students should sweep floors in exchange for receiving free school lunches.


By and large, U.S. Rep. Paul Broun has been a toned-down version of himself since jumping into the Republican race for U.S. Senate.

That may be changing. In a just-posted interview with Joshua Stewart of Georgia Public Broadcasting, the Athens congressman cut loose with some flowery language on the topic of electability and the viability of a Democratic candidate such as Michelle Nunn.

The audio can be found here. In this bit, Broun is clearly targeting GOP rival Jack Kingston, the congressman from Savannah:

 “The only way that a Democrat has any possibility of winning this race—and frankly, I think it is very minor at that—is if we nominate a mamby-pamby, big-spender, big-government, big-earmarking Republican who is nothing but somebody who wants to build a bigger government, just like we’ve seen both parties build in Washington.

“That may give a Democrat the chance to win. But otherwise, when I’m nominated, I’ll be the most-electable candidate out of the whole Republican field that’s out there now in this race.”

But it is the sound bite below, in which Broun addresses Georgia’s changing demographics, that’s likely to raise eyebrows. Said Broun:

“It only helps the Democrats if we legalize all these illegal aliens in this country who the Democrats want to put on federal welfare programs – and actually, they are on federal welfare programs today. The Democrats want to make them all basically dependent on the federal government so they can continue their radical, big government agenda….

“The only way Georgia is going to change is if we have all these illegal aliens in here in Georgia, [and] give them the right to vote. It would be morally wrong, it would be illegal to do so, under our current law. Actually, all these illegal aliens are getting federal largesse and taking taxpayer’s dollars. That’s the only way this state is going to become Democratic again, in the next number of decades.”


We already knew that former Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia had thrown in with Michelle Nunn’s Democratic campaign for U.S. Senate. Yesterday we received word of another former GOP senator who’s backing Nunn. Not that it’s a surprise.

An Indiana political action committee, called the 19th Star PAC and under the direction of former Sen. Richard Lugar, donated $5,000 to Nunn’s camp in early December. Nunn’s father, former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn, worked with Lugar on plans to deactivate nuclear warheads in the former Soviet Union.

Lugar lost his 2012 primary bid to tea party rival Richard Mourdock, who went on to lose the general election – a poster child, in the minds of some Republicans, for ideological excess.

Nunn, who is trying to position herself as a pragmatic outsider, praised Lugar’s tenure as the type of “problem-solving Georgians are yearning for in Washington.”

She added: “We need more leaders like Senator Lugar – not less, and I will strive to follow this legacy in the U.S. Senate.”



For years, Augusta, Georgia, has held its local elections in November, when turnout is high. But last year, state Republicans changed the election date to July, when far fewer blacks make it to the polls.  

The effort was blocked under the Voting Rights Act (VRA) by the federal government, which cited the harm that the change would do to minorities. But now that the Supreme Court has badly weakened the landmark civil rights law, the move looks to be back on. The city’s African-Americans say they know what’s behind it.

“It’s a maneuver to suppress our voting participation,” Dr. Charles Smith, the president of Augusta’s NACCP branch, told msnbc.

The dispute is flaring at a time when Georgia, long deep-red, is becoming increasingly politically competitive, and Democrats have nominated two candidates with famous names for high-profile statewide races next year.

Voting rights experts say the events in Augusta may be a sign of what’s to come—or even of what’s already happening. In June, the Supreme Court invalidated Section 5 of the VRA, which had required certain jurisdictions, mostly in the south, to submit election changes to the federal government to ensure they didn’t harm minority voters. Since then, harsh voting restrictions put in place by several southern states have generated national news coverage—Texas’ voter ID law and North Carolina’s sweeping voting bill most prominent among them. But most of the changes stopped by Section 5 weren’t statewide laws. Instead, they were measures adopted at the local or county level.

“It’s school boards, and county commissions, and city councils, and water districts, and police juries,” Julie Fernandes, a former top voting-rights official at the Justice Department, said last week at apanel on voting rights. “It’s all the stuff that really, really, really matters to folks all over the country, where they live.”

So it’s no surprise that since the high court’s ruling, smaller jurisdictions from Georgia to Arizona are moving to change election rules in ways that undermine hard-won minority political power. Donita Judge, a staff attorney with the Advancement Project, a civil-rights organization, said these kind of local election changes deserve more focused attention.

“In many ways, those type of elections are the ones that really impact you day-to-day,” Judge told msnbc. “We have to keep our eyes on those areas also.”

In Augusta, a city with a troubled history of race bias in elections, conservatives reached back over a century to unearth a tactic that was used to keep blacks from the polls during Jim Crow: changing the date of elections.

Last year, Rep. Barbara Sims, a Republican who represents the area, pushed a law through Georgia’s GOP-controlled legislature that applied only to Augusta. Against the clear wishes of the city council, the law moved the city’s elections for mayor and city council from the day of the general election in November to the day of the primaries in July.

Sims said at the time the goal was to establish uniformity with other non-partisan local elections in the state, which had been moved to July under previous legislation that applied only to counties, not cities.

But local Democrats and minorities saw the law as a bid to lower turnout among blacks, who usually vote in much higher numbers in November general elections, which tend to have a high profile, than they do in less-publicized primaries.

That figures to be particularly true next year, when two highly anticipated statewide races are likely to draw black voters to the polls in the fall. Jimmy Carter’s grandson, Jason Carter, is challenging the incumbent Republican governor, Nathan Deal. And Michelle Nunn, the daughter of longtime Georgia senator Sam Nunn, is running for an open U.S. Senate seat that could help determine control of the chamber. Adding to the intensity of the partisan conflict, there’s growing talk that, as with Texas, demographic trends could slowly be turning Georgia blue.

A close look at turnout numbers bears out the concern that the change in Augusta will hurt minorities. Seventy-five percent of Augusta blacks voted in the November 2012 general election, while just 33% did so in the July primaries. By comparison, 73% of whites voted in November, and 43% voted in July, according to U.S. Justice Department figures. 2010 showed a similar pattern. In other words, moving the election from November to July would likely lead to a sharp decline in voting among both blacks and whites—in itself an argument against the change—but the drop-off would be bigger among blacks.

Turnout rates are often the key factor in election results in Augusta, where blacks make up a slim majority of the population. If black and white turnout is roughly equal, as it tends to be in November, black and black-supported candidates can win. If whites turn out at a higher rate, as they usually do in July, white conservative candidates get a major boost.

Among the candidates likely to be harmed by the election change is state Sen. Hardie Davis, an African-American Democrat running for mayor.

Citing those turnout numbers, the Justice Department blocked the change last December under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, finding that it would reduce the political power of Augusta’s blacks. 

“Although the change affects only Augusta-Richmond, it does not appear to have been requested by local citizens or officials,” a Justice Department official wrote in a letter to Georgia officials. “There is no evidence that the legislation’s sponsors informed, much less sought the views of the local delegation, minority legislators, or local officials about the change at any point.”

This wasn’t the first time the Feds had stepped in to block changes that they concluded would hurt Augusta’s black citizens. As the Justice Department noted, there was even a previous effort in Augusta to move the election from November to July, blocked by DoJ in 1989.

But then came the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. Deciding that the South had made enough progress on race relations since the 1960s, the court declared the formula behind Section 5 unconstitutional, neutering the provision unless Congress acts.

That led the office of Georgia’s attorney general to conclude that the move to July could go forward. The secretary of state still needs to rule on the issue, and lawsuits are expected whatever the outcome. But it currently looks more likely than not that the election will be moved.

If it is, Augusta would join a growing list of places where conservatives have taken advantage of the Shelby County ruling to institute changes that diminish the political influence of local blacks and Hispanics.

As msnbc reported last monthShelby gave a key boost to a group of white conservatives in Beaumont, Texas, who have been pushing to oust the black majority of the local school board. Not far away in the city of Pasadena, just east of Houston, Shelby also emboldened conservatives to pass a voter initiative this month that changes the way council districts are drawn up, likely reducing the council’s Hispanic representation. Galveston County, also in southeast Texas, seized on Shelby to push forward in August with a plan that would reduce the number of minority justices of the peace, a version of which had been blocked under Section 5 last year. And Arizona is now moving forward with a plan to add two at-large members to the district community college board for Maricopa County, which had been blocked under Section 5 because it would dilute minority representation on the board.

Those cases may just be the tip of the iceberg. Without Section 5’s preclearance requirement, there’s no longer an effective way for national voting-rights advocates and the federal government to find out about ground-level changes.

“We, and I’m sure the Department of Justice as well, are all trying to figure out how we’re going to learn about those kinds of changes at the local level now,” Dale Ho, the director of the ACLU’s voting-rights project, told msnbc. “I just have a hard time believing this is the only thing happening out there. But right now we don’t know.”


Jason Carter, a Georgia state senator and one of Jimmy Carter’s 11 grandchildren, is officially going after his grandfather’s pre-presidential job: the Georgia governorship. There’s been speculation about the younger Carter’s gubernatorial aspirations for some weeks now, but the 38-year-old Democrat has only just confirmed his plans in an interview with The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, saying his state “can’t afford four more years of an economy that’s not working for the middle class and an education system that’s underfunded.” 

Carter’s run is troubling news for incumbent Governor Nathan Deal, who already has to fend off two primary opponents and a recent state ethics scandal in his bid for reelection in 2014. As the Associated Press notes, a Jason Carter campaign will almost certainly “grab national attention, be well-financed, and criticize the governor’s ethics and leadership.” 

But there’s even more Georgia political history at play here: Carter will appear on the same ballot as Senate candidate Michelle Nunn, who has raised $1.7 million for her campaign and is also the daughter of longtime former U.S. senator Sam Nunn. As The Atlanta-Journal Constitution pointed out last month, the Carter and Nunn family names have thus been intertwined for four decades, and Sam Nunn and Jimmy Carter famously didn’t always get along.

Carter’s position mirrors his grandfather’s by other measures, too: Jimmy Carter was also finishing up his second term as state senator when he first ran for governor in 1966. He lost that race, but landed in the governor’s seat just four years later—and the White House not long after that.