By Louis Mayeux
First lady Michelle Obama’s fund-raising appearance in Atlanta Monday raises risks for U.S. Senate candidate Michelle Nunn, a veteran political analyst says.
“Having the president’s wife down here might underscore the message that the National Republican Senatorial Committee is spending millions on TV to send,” said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock III. “I’m surprised to see that.”
The NRSC TV ads link Nunn with President Barack Obama. In contrast, Nunn has sought to downplay ties with the president, stressing a bipartisan outlook with frequent mention of her connection with President George H.W. Bush, who launched the Points of Light Foundation that Nunn headed before seeking office.
While the first lady is less polarizing than her husband, Bullock believes that Nunn’s appearance with Michelle Obama will tie her further to the president’s administration.
The first lady will appear at the Atlanta Public Schools’ Booker T. Washington High School along with Education Secretary Arne Duncan at 1:30 p.m Monday,, then join Nunn at a private fund-raising event, according to media reports. Obama will end her Atlanta visit with a voter-registration rally in the afternoon.
Bullock sees more positives for Nunn in another celebrity appearance. Former President Bill Clinton will take part in a private fund-raising event for Nunn at the home of hip-hop star Usher on Sept. 13, according to reports.
“Clinton right now is a less divisive figure than any of the Obamas will be,” Bullock said. “Clinton will rally the troops and raise money.”
Polls show that Clinton is “probably the most popular political figure on the national stage today,” Bullock said. “Independents look favorably on Clinton,” recalling the strong economy during his administration.
Separate campaigns?: While GOP incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal and Senate candidate David Perdue have made several joint appearances, Nunn and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter have so far essentially run separate campaigns.
Deal and Perdue showed up for a tail-gaiting event at the University of Georgia’s opening game against Clemson, while Carter tail-gated alone.
Bullock said the Democrats’ separate ways have historical roots. When the Democrats held control over state politics, “each candidate ran independent affairs,” he said. During Zell Miller’s administration, “Democrats began to run coordinated campaigns rather than each being a lone ranger. More recently, Republicans have been more likely to team up with one another while Democrats haven’t gotten back into doing this.”
With the Democrats now a minority party, separate campaigns might better appeal to independents and crossover Republicans while “not taking anyone else’s very heavy burden in trying to do that,” he said.
For example, the Nunn campaign announced the Michelle Obama and Bill Carter appearances but it appears that “Carter hasn’t yet been invited to those events,” he said.”And Michelle and Jason talk about having this coordinated campaign.”
With Carter’s campaign stressing education reform, his appearance with Michelle Obama at a school event would correspond. “Education is much more of a state and local responsibility. It would make more sense for a Georgia governor’s candidate to appear,” Bullock said.
Bullock sees the campaigns as boosting Democrats in Georgia no matter what happens in the election.
“The Democratic Party as an entity hasn’t been very strong and effective, so this will be a win-win election for Democrats,” he said. “It will be a huge victory. Even if their candidates don’t win, it will go a long way toward resuscitating the party.”
The strong campaigns will help the party build a network of financial supporters and volunteers, he said. With state demographics reportedly shifting in the Democrats’ direction, that will provide a good base for the future.
A boost for APS: Michelle Obama and Arne Duncan’s appearance will be another step forward for Atlanta’s public school system as it continues to rebound from a cheating scandal, now heading to trial. The school system also has begun the year with a new superintendent, Meria Carstarphen.
The first lady in her appearance at Washington, Martin Luther King Jr.’s alma mater, will emphasize her “reach higher” initiative. The program to encourage college education will resonate at an inner-city school in a system battling to improve high dropout rates.
While Carter is not scheduled for the event, he did recently appear at another APS school, Grady High, to announce his endorsement from the Georgia Association of Educators. Carter’s wife, Kate, once taught at Grady.