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Conservative pundit Erick Erickson, who once called a Supreme Court justice a “goat fucking child molester” and has been criticized by coworkers for sexist and incendiary remarks, is trying to become a Republican kingmaker. Many Republicans are happily promoting his endorsements, paying his site for advertising, and attending his events.

On August 7-9, Republicans such as Gov. Rick Perry, Gov. Nikki Haley, Sen. Ted Cruz, Rep. Jim Bridenstine, Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott, and RNC chair Reince Priebus will attend Erickson’s 2014 RedState Gathering in Fort Worth, Texas. Previous speakers at the annual event have included Sen. Tim ScottGov. Bobby Jindal, and Sen. Marco Rubio.

Erickson is a Fox News contributor and the editor-in-chief of, where he, according to his biography, writes “candidly about and challenge the Republican establishment as well as rally conservatives to push their agenda at both the federal and state level.” He believes that “conservatives must unite to clean up the Republican Party. If they don’t, voters will keep rejecting Republican pseudo-socialists in favor of authentic socialists.” His philosophy has led to fights with establishment Republican pundits like Karl Rove and GOP apparatuses like the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

That Erickson would want the Republican Party to tack even further to the right isn’t surprising. This is the same pundit that cites Jesus to deny the threat of climate change, endorses homophobia, and believes Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme” and death panels are real.

But his commentary goes beyond extreme conservative positions and into the realm of remarks that even his own colleagues find “boorish and obnoxious.”  

Erickson called then-retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter a “goat fucking child molester,” Michelle Obama a “Marxist harpy wife,” and wondered of Washington state: At what point do the people … march down to their state legislator’s house, pull him outside, and beat him to a bloody pulp?” Comments like that drew a rebuke from then-CNN colleague turned current Fox News colleague Howard Kurtz in 2010.

Fox News host Greta Van Susteren earlier this year called Erickson a “creep” who is “boorish and obnoxious” and “has [a] pattern of being disrespectful to women” after he smeared Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis as “Abortion Barbie.” Van Susteren added that the “jerk” “has never been on TV with me.” Fox News host Megyn Kelly sharply criticized Erickson over his sexist assertion that “when you look at biology” the “male typically is the dominant role.”

Despite that history, numerous Republican politicians have touted Erickson’s endorsements in their election fights. Below are thirteen examples of Republicans running for federal office this year who have proudly accepted Erickson’s help:

  • Alabama congressional candidate Chad Mathis touts Erickson’s endorsement on his website.
  • Georgia congressional candidate Barry Loudermilk writes of Erickson, “Proud to have his support!” Erickson headlined a fundraiser for Loudermilk.
  • Georgia Senate candidate Karen Handel released a radio ad featuring Erickson and saying she was “honored” to be endorsed by him. Erickson also recorded a robocall for Handel.
  • Georgia Senate candidate Rep. Jack Kingston ran a radio ad featuring Erickson.
  • Georgia House candidate Jody Hice held a fundraiser featuring Erickson.
  • Kansas Senate candidate Milton Wolf touts Erickson’s endorsement on his website.
  • Kentucky Senate candidate Matt Bevin touted Erickson’s endorsement on his website.
  • Nebraska Senate candidate Ben Sasse touts Erickson’s endorsement on his website.
  • New Jersey congressional candidate Steve Lonegan touts Erickson’s endorsement on his website, adding: “Ask [sic] Erickson said, Steve can win, but he is going to need your help. Can you pitch in as little as $5 to send a real conservative to Washington, DC?”
  • North Carolina Senate candidate Greg Brannon writes on a fundraising page that he’s supported by Erickson.
  • Oklahoma Senate candidate T.W. Shannon touted Erickson’s endorsement on his website.
  • South Carolina Senate candidate Det Bowers touted Erickson’s endorsement on his website.
  • Texas congressional candidate John Ratcliffe promotes Erickson’s endorsement on his website.

Milton Wolf, who unsuccessfully challenged Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, bought advertising on Erickson’s RedState email list to promote a March fundraising “money bomb.” Wolf’s sponsored email included a message from Erickson, who wrote: “Please take a look at the email below from Dr. Wolf, and consider supporting his cause. With your help, we can win in Kansas!”

Other Republicans who have rented Erickson’s email list include Sen. Rand Paul, Rep. Steve Stockman, Ken Cuccinelli and Sheriff Joe Arpaio.’s advertising page states: “Across the country, we find grassroots candidates and work hard to get them elected.”

In April, Erickson served as the moderator for a Republican Iowa Senate primary debate hosted by a conservative group. Democrats criticized Erickson’s selection, citing his “intolerant” and “hateful” views.

Ratcliffe and Sasse, who were backed by national groups, won their Republican primaries, and several Erickson-backed candidates in the recent Georgia Republican primary were successful. But while many Republican politicians are happy to have his support, Erickson’s endorsement is no guarantee of success for candidates who often enter races as underdogs. Bowers, Brannon, Handel, Kingston, Lonegan, Mathis, Shannon, and Wolf lost their primaries, and Erickson bailed on the sinking candidacy of Matt Bevin as polls closed. 

h/t: Eric Hananoki at MMFA

Karen Handel’s toast.
It’s Kingston v. Perdue in the July runoff for the right to face off against Michelle Nunn in November. 

Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey are out of a job at the end of the 113th Congress. 


Battle In Georgia: An All-Out War in Georgia’s GOP Senate Primary Race

ROME, Ga. — The once-peaceful Georgia GOP Senate primary has devolved into an all-out brawl in its final days, ripe with charges of sexism, arrogance, lying, distortion and even “promoting teenage homosexuality” — and that’s just a taste of the venom.

Three candidates — businessman David Perdue, former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel and Rep. Jack Kingston — have emerged as the leading contenders ahead of Tuesday’s low-turnout primary, scrapping for every vote to make it into what promises to be an even nastier two-person runoff lasting nine weeks.

It had appeared in recent weeks that the Georgia race was the latest example of the GOP establishment having its way in critical Republican primaries over tea party foes. Two far-right candidates who worried establishment types faded in the polls, a sign that perhaps the GOP was ready to move past the intraparty wars that have cost Republicans the Senate majority time and again.

So much for that.

(Also on POLITICO:Romneycare shadows Brown ACA protest)

The fight here underscores a larger dynamic this midterm year: While the environment is ripe for a Senate GOP majority, one or two missteps could leave Republicans frustratingly short for a third straight election cycle. Party officials insist they won’t let that happen, but the vitriol among the candidates — and their efforts to outrun one another to the right — are precisely what Democratic hopeful Michelle Nunn and her allies were hoping for.

“I’m a girl, that means I fight like a girl,” Handel told about 50 supporters enjoying Southern barbecue in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta. “And there ain’t nothing meaner. They better watch out.”

Perdue, a wealthy former CEO of Dollar General and Reebok, has endured weeks of attacks from Handel that he’s an “elitist” and a liberal masquerading as a conservative.

So, when he was asked about Handel during an interview here in Northern Georgia aboard his spacious campaign RV, he had this to say: “She ran five times for five different races, got elected twice, didn’t finish either term.” Perdue was referring to Handel leaving the Fulton County Board of Commissioners to run for secretary of state, then cutting that term short to seek the governorship in 2010. “I just believe that defines self-interest over the interests in serving the constituents.”

(Also on POLITICO: Paul struggles with hawkish GOP donors)

Handel seethed at those comments. “Would we be having this conversation if I were a man?” she said. “I would argue not.”

And on and on it goes.

Sprint to the right

The candidates are simultaneously running to the right — questioning the science of climate change, vowing to privatize entitlement programs for future beneficiaries and, in some cases, calling for the self-deportation of undocumented immigrants — and dubbing their opponents sellouts to the conservative cause. It’s the only way to win a crowded GOP primary. But the winner will have to account for those stances in the general election — in a state that favors Republicans but not prohibitively so.

The Georgia seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss is one of just two Republican seats that Democrats have a serious shot at winning this fall, making the race a must-win for the GOP if it wants to take back the Senate for the first time since 2006.

(Also on POLITICO: Report: Abramson salary $100K below male editor)

Republicans are confident that President Barack Obama’s deep unpopularity and the entrenched GOP power base in the state will ultimately make it impossible for Democrats to steal the seat.

The final weeks of the primary have narrowed the race to three top contenders, polls show. But there are no neat dividing lines.

With the support of Sarah Palin and conservative pundit Erick Erickson, Handel is making an aggressive play for the tea party wing — though grass-roots activists here are split and big-spending conservative outside groups like the Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Fund have sat out the primary. Kingston boasts the backing of Sean Hannity, while Perdue touts his support from Georgia native Herman Cain.

(PHOTOS: Georgia’s Senate race)

If that’s not enough to flummox a GOP voter trying to sort out the field, just listen to the rhetoric.

“I’m a hard-core conservative,” Perdue said when asked about his political ideology. To which Kingston responds: “I think if you’re conservative — at some point in your life — you voted in a number of Republican primaries and participated in some Republican events. … There’s not much evidence to convict David Perdue of being a lifelong Republican.”

Meanwhile, Handel gasped and chuckled upon hearing that the 11-term Kingston boasted of being a staunch conservative.

“Come on!” she exclaimed, listing a series of controversial votes the congressman has cast, most involving spending bills and earmarks. “He’s a seat warmer.”

At the same time, Rep. Phil Gingrey, a six-term congressman from the northern Atlanta suburbs who is falling in the polls, unleashed an ad this week dubbing the three leading contenders as “moderates” — and accusing Handel of “promoting teenage homosexuality” when she backed funding for an LGBT group on the Fulton County commission in 2006.

Her camp roundly dismissed it as a cheap shot by a flailing candidate.

Democrats are sitting back and hoping this is the same movie they’ve seen before: brutal primary wars that spell GOP disaster, much like 2010 and 2012. Nunn, a political novice whose father is the former Sen. Sam Nunn, is skating to her party’s nomination pretty much unscathed.

“I think the [Republican] primary has become a race to the extremes,” Nunn said in an interview in Atlanta.

Republicans, certainly, recognize the risks. Addressing a group of police officers at the Gordon County sheriff’s office in Calhoun, Ga., the 59-year-old Kingston said: “How many of y’all have seen that the conservative family might be a little bit divided right now? … And how many of y’all know, divided we fall?”

“Amen!” a man yelled out.

The Perdue pile-on

Many Republicans view Perdue as the ideal type of candidate for the GOP. He’s a telegenic businessman who can boast of creating jobs and turning around Fortune 500 companies. He lacks the baggage of a voting record and can pump millions of his own cash into his campaign. Plus he has a famous last name — his cousin is former two-term Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, who left office only three years ago.

David Perdue barnstorms the state in a blue RV bearing his slogan, “The Outsider,” arguing to voters it’s time to send a nonpolitician to Washington.

At his campaign events, a volunteer is designated to blast music from his mobile phone whenever there’s a video tracker nearby, to prevent an opponent from catching Perdue in an unscripted moment with voters. But that can only do so much: In recent weeks Perdue’s unscripted moments have allowed his GOP critics to argue he’s not a true Republican.

Speaking to the Macon Telegraph editorial board, Perdue was asked whether raising revenue or cutting spending is the best way to slice the deficit. “Both,” he interjected. His opponents seized on the comment and claimed he was endorsing a tax increase. (He later said it was a reference to increasing revenue through economic growth, not tax increases, which he’s signed a pledge to oppose as a senator.)

Perdue, 64, says that as one of a handful of senators with business experience, he would be able to break perpetual gridlock over legislation to stem the budget deficit and bolster economic growth. But every time Perdue offers a whiff of compromise, he gets pounded by his opponents, so it’s unclear exactly where he’d bend. In the interview, he doubted the science of climate change and said he wouldn’t bother to fix Obamacare, saying the whole law needs to be scrapped. He called talk of raising the minimum wage “backward thinking.”

“There’s very little difference between these five candidates, honestly,” Perdue said, referring to their ideology.

To fight back against charges of “elitism,” Perdue — whose minimum net worth is estimated at $11.9 million, and who has pumped $2.7 million of his own cash into the race so far, with more likely to come if he makes the runoff — points out how his parents were both public schoolteachers and says he earned his money by being a risk-taker in business.

But his rivals are trying to undermine that very record in the corporate world. Kingston accuses Perdue of “bankrupting” a company in the early 2000s, a reference to a North Carolina-based textile firm, Pillowtex, which laid off nearly 8,000 workers soon after he stepped aside as CEO. He disputes Perdue’s central selling point that he helped turn around Dollar General, saying he “didn’t do a very good job.” And he says Democrats will pound Perdue for his work with Haggar Clothing Co. that cut jobs in Texas and outsourced them in the late 1990s.

“I think it’s very important to have a nominee who has been fully vetted,” Kingston said to about 30 voters at the home of Ronald Reagan’s former Georgia campaign chairman, nestled in the woods of Ellijay. “We got some folks in this race that I think the Democrats would just eat alive in the general election.”

Perdue accuses Kingston of spewing “lies” about his business record like a typical politician. He says he was brought on board at Pillowtex as it was going into bankruptcy proceedings, decimated as manufacturing sectors were struggling nationwide. As for Haggar, he says free trade agreements endorsed by Congress forced companies like it to move jobs offshore to compete.

“There’s a little desperation,” Perdue said of Kingston.

Handel vs. ‘good old boys’

A few weeks ago, Handel was seen as fading. Then Perdue dismissed her as “the high school graduate in this race.” The condescending comment — Perdue now says he “overreached” — went viral. And Handel has used it to reinvigorate her campaign.

“There are some who may think I’m not smart enough,” she told a gathering of supporters at a Flying Biscuit restaurant in her hometown of Roswell. “I’m proud of the fact that I was able to overcome long odds.”

Handel, who left home at the age of 17 from an abusive family, has made her mark in Georgia as a scrappy campaigner who’s unafraid of controversy. During the 2010 gubernatorial primary, she vowed repeatedly to clean up the “good old boy” network in Georgia politics and accused her opponents of ethical improprieties. She finished first in the primary, then barely lost to Nathan Deal in a bitter runoff that is still resonating today.

Several GOP sources said that Deal allies have quietly moved to shut down the money spigot to Handel, which helps account for the meager $337,000 in her campaign account. Moreover, the network of Sonny Perdue donors who helped Handel in the 2010 governor’s run are now firmly on David Perdue’s side. A Deal spokeswoman and Handel both downplayed the past disputes, but others say the ill will still lingers.

If Handel wins the nomination, her critics say she’ll have a hard time uniting the party given her scorched-earth campaigning.

“The anti-Handel people aren’t going to come out and support Nunn, but they are probably not going to send [Handel] any more money,” said Eric Johnson, who lost the 2010 gubernatorial primary against Handel and now backs Kingston. “They are going to let the outside forces run the race, and let the chips fall where they may.”

Handel, 52, insists she’s an “unwavering conservative fighter” rather than a “go along to get along” Republican like Kingston or Perdue. She claims she would take that same battle to the Senate in the mold of Ted Cruz, arguing in an interview that it’s time for Mitch McConnell to go and that there should be “new leadership” atop the Senate GOP Conference.

But while Handel is running like a Palin-style conservative, her critics say she was groomed by the party establishment — having once worked for Sonny Perdue — and took a sharp turn to the right after falling in the governor’s race. Her profile grew in 2012 when, as a senior executive for Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure foundation, she tried to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood.

But her opponents are quick to note that she supported a contract for the organization seven years earlier when serving on the county commission, around the same time as she backed funding for the gay rights organization at the heart of the Gingrey attack.

Handel dismisses the criticism, noting her staunch social conservative stands, like opposing federal benefits for gay and lesbian domestic partners. In the interview, she wouldn’t say whether she believes homosexuality is a choice.

“I’m not going to get into the science,” she said, “about any of that.”

h/t: Cameron Joseph at The Hill

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


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.”

Remember two years ago when the Susan G. Komen For the Cure foundation abruptly dropped its grants to a Planned Parenthood breast-cancer screening program, setting off a national outcry, and prompting the resignation of the Komen official reportedly behind the decision?

The fallout of the debacle is still hurting Komen, which recently reported a 22 percent drop in income over the past year. But the decision to cut off grants to Planned Parenthood seems to be paying off for one person: Karen Handel, the former Komen vice president who was widely reported to have been the driving force behind split.

Now running for Senate in Georgia, Handel has released a campaign video touting her role in severing Planned Parenthood from Komen and fighting back against the “left-wing groups” and “liberal media” that criticized her.


In speeches and interviews, Handel has made the Planned Parenthood showdown a centerpiece of her biography. She even paved the way for her Senate run by releasing a book calling Planned Parenthood “thugs” and “bullies.”

Whatever Handel’s motivations or role in the Komen/Planned Parenthood split, the whole episode seems to be working out pretty well for her. The decision that Handel advocated for might have left Komen struggling financially, but Handel herself now has the perfect story to prove her status as an anti-choice activist martyred by the liberal media.

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.


After the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure’s decision to defund Planned Parenthood, attention has focused on its Vice President for Policy, Karen Handel. She joined the group last January after a failed run for governor in Georgia, where she had advocated defunding Planned Parenthood.

But there’s another woman who deserves equal credit: Americans United for Life President Charmaine Yoest. It’s her group that issued a report last fall, “The Case for Investigating Planned Parenthood,” that led to a probe by the Energy and Commerce Committee. And it’s that investigation that puts Planned Parenthood in violation of Komen’s new policy that bars funding of groups under investigation.

Yoest has run Americans United for Life for three years. She came to the group from former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign, and before that, served as the Family Research Council’s vice president for communications. She moved to Washington in the 1980s to work in the Reagan administration. But she counts this as perhaps her biggest victory.

WASHINGTON — Senator Saxby Chambliss, the Georgia Republican who helped lead efforts to find a bipartisan deficit reduction compromise, announced on Friday that he would retire at the end of 2014, a decision likely to set off a battle on the Republican Party’s right flank for a successor.

Already, organizations backed by the Tea Party were stirring interest in a primary challenge for Mr. Chambliss over his embrace of new revenues as a part of any comprehensive deficit package. Representatives Tom Price and Paul Broun, two Republican doctors and ardent conservatives from Georgia, had expressed interest in a possible challenge.

But without Mr. Chambliss in the picture, the Senate contest in Georgia could shape up to be a battle royale on the right. Other possible candidates could include Herman Cain, a failed presidential candidate, and Karen Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state who ran for governor in 2010 with the backing of Sarah Palin. Ms. Handel lost that contest but went on to a senior position at the Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast cancer foundation, where she championed a controversial move to withhold financing for Planned Parenthood cancer screenings.

In a statement, Mr. Chambliss took pains to say he did not fear losing a primary challenge.

“Lest anyone think this decision is about a primary challenge, I have no doubt that had I decided to be a candidate, I would have won re-election,” he said. “In these difficult political times, I am fortunate to have actually broadened my support around the state and the nation due to the stances I have taken. Instead, this is about frustration, both at a lack of leadership from the White House and at the dearth of meaningful action from Congress.”

Democrats insisted they would make a run at his seat.

“Georgia will now offer Democrats one of our best pick-up opportunities of the cycle. There are already several reports of the potential for a divisive primary that will push Republicans to the extreme right. Regardless, there’s no question that the demographics of the state have changed and Democrats are gaining strength. This will be a top priority,” said Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

But in a mid-presidential term election, Georgia will present a steep climb for the Democratic Party.

h/t: The New York Times

Ex-Komen VP Handel: “Planned Parenthood ‘literally co-opted the color pink’ from breast cancer” (via Raw Story )

Former senior vice president of public policy for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation Karen Handel said that Planned Parenthood had “literally” stolen the color pink in its branding from the breast cancer research organization during an event at the Family Research Council headquarters in Washington, D.C. to promote her new anti-Planned Parenthood book. “To them, Planned Parenthood literally co-opted the color pink. And for most people the color pink is associated with what? The fight against breast cancer,” Handel continued. “But Planned Parenthood cloaked itself in that color. Their website changed to pink. Everything they did was pink, pink, pink. Wrapping themselves in what I would call, if you will, a cloak of legitimacy in an effort to gain credibility.” Planned Parenthood routinely through its political advocacy organization endorses pro-abortion pro-Planned Parenthood candidates, including Barack Obama. How is that not a violation of campaign finance and IRS [501](c)4 rules?” Handel asked. “I would ask you this, if the NRA [National Rifle Association], if FRC, through its (c)4 was out blatantly campaigning for a particular individual or a particular candidate, don’t you think the wrath of the DOJ and the IRS would be raining down on you? I would guess it would be.”


The former Susan G. Komen for the Cure executive who orchestrated the organization’s controversial and short-lived break from Planned Parenthood earlier this year, is out with a new book claiming that the funding dispute was all Planned Parenthood’s fault. In “Planned Bullyhood,” Karen Handel claims that Planned Parenthood turned its back on a “gentlewomen’s agreement” to not discuss the fact that Komen was withdrawing $680,000 a year in grants for breast cancer screenings through the organization’s clinics and then turned on Komen in a PR blitz.

Handel, an anti-choice activist and former GOP candidate who reportedly pushed the move within Komen, resigned shortly after the news of the break caused a national firestorm.

In interviews with right-wing radio hosts Janet Mefferd and Janet Parshall last week, Handel portrays herself as the victim of bullying by the “vicious” Planned Parenthood. She tells Mefferd that Planned Parenthood launched “a mafia-style attack” and that “Komen was held hostage for a mere $680,000.” She sees a double standard in the fact that President Obama didn’t call her after she was criticized, “like he did Sandra Fluke.”

Handel: The left and Planned Parenthood, they were threatening Komen’s corporate sponsors: “See what we’re doing to Komen? If you don’t stop supporting them, we’re gonna do the same to you.” They were just filling up the Facebooks, Twitter, Komen’s website crashed, there were bomb threats, corporate sponsors were threatened. It really was almost a mafia-style attack, if you will, and Komen was held hostage for a mere $680,000. And Planned Parenthood and the left, they wanted this to be about politics. I believe they used Komen purposefully as a pawn, if you will, in this ridiculous so-called “War on Women” and these cries of “women’s health.” And Janet, my question for you, and I just find this all so insulting, how in the world did the issue of women’s health get reduced to being about abortion and contraception?

Mefferd: Right. I’m with you.

Handel: I just reject that. I reject that notion, and I think that most women do too.

Mefferd: Oh, completely. And what I found very interesting, Karen, doing the show that I do, and being pro-life and knowning a lot of pro-lifers, when Susan G. Komen made that decision and all the pro-lifers were going “Yes, finally, great!,” the next thing people were saying was, “Now watch what Planned Parenthood will do to them.” You know, we knew. We knew exactly how Planned Parenthood would react, though admittedly it was more over the top than I think a lot of us believed it would be. It was shameful what they did.

 Parshall: Planned Parenthood’s assault, to use your word, and by the way you started using that word back in February of this year, way before it became the title of your book, if they’re bullying people because they might have a pro-life position, it really calls into account whether they are pro-women or whether they are politically aligned rather than rising to a higher cause.

Handel: I think that’s right, I think you’ve really hit on it, Janet. And for Komen, that’s exactly what Komen was trying to do. Komen wanted to be in a place where everyone, regardless of whether they were pro-life or on the other side of the issue, would be able to embrace the organization and embrace the mission. We wanted to be neutral and we wanted to be good stewards of dollars. Don’t get me wrong, it was both. Planned Parenthood, on the other hand, they were willing to sacrifice Komen for the sake of their agenda, which is not about women’s health. If it was about women’s health, they would not have wanted to try to destroy an organization that was doing such good work in the area of breast cancer.

h/t: Miranda Blue at Right Wing Watch