By Louis Mayeux
U.S. Sen. candidate Michelle Nunn’s victory chances depend on her bringing back to the Democratic column older, white voters in Middle Georgia who traditionally made up the party’s backbone, a political analyst said.
Call them blue dogs, Sam Nunn Democrats, moderates, or independents. They voted Republican in recent elections, but remain Democrats at heart, said Chris Grant, chair of the political science department at Mercer University in Macon.
“Some older white Democrats have stayed true blue, if you will,” Grant said. “Democrats have residual support among whites in this part of the state.”
The traditional white Democrats live north of the state’s plantation “black belt” on a line from Columbus to Macon to Augusta, as well as in southwest Georgia, he said. While the traditional white Democrats have shifted to the GOP recently, Nunn “is trying to call them back to the fold and get them out to the polls for her this time.”
Grant said that along with black and inner-city supporters, Nunn to win needs to draw significant support from the Middle Georgia white voters along with suburban women.
“She needs another base, and it is probably right around here,” Grant said. “…There are still whites voting Democratic in this part of the state. They are probably not liberals, and are not extremely conservative. They are fluctuating back and forth. If she wins this part, and suburban women, she wins the Senate race. My hunch is this is the place where she needs to do stronger.”
The National Senatorial Republican Committee TV ads tying Nunn to President Obama could make a difference, he said. Meanwhile, Nunn is seeking to show herself as a bipartisan bridge-builder like her father when he served in the U.S. Senate.
“If the moderate sort of residual Democratic voter who’s a bit older and might not be as well-educated sees her as a creature of the national Democrats, more of that than like her dad, she doesn’t win this part of the state,” he said.
Grant says Nunn faces a tough battle to win the election against GOP opponent David Perdue. After leading in fund-raising early in the campaign, she has now fallen behind, he said.
“I have less optimism for a Democratic victory in Georgia at this part than I would have three months ago,” he said.
Nunn has faltered in building enough support to withstand an expected late barrage of GOP attack ads, he said. “She has not come out of the gate with the tenacity that I would have sort of expected.”
However, the race could change, he said. “Perdue as an unknown could blunder terrifically between now and election day.”
Both Nunn and Perdue see middle Georgia as their home territory.
Perdue comes from Warner Robins, in Houston County, which also includes Perry, Sam Nunn’s hometown With a campaign office in nearby Macon, in Bibb County, Michelle Nunn has frequently visited the area during her campaign. She recently appeared at the sprawling air base in Warner Robins with her father, according to media reports. Perdue has a campaign office in Warner Robins, although he’s made less frequent visits to the area.
With her father’s ties to the area, Nunn could make a strong showing in suburban Houston County, where Republicans hold the edge. Democrats control Macon and Bibb County.
Grant said that he heard that Nunn conducted a test run of her get out the vote technology in Macon’s Bibb County during the Democratic primary, where she had weak opposition.
While Nunn could possibly pick up moderate voters who supported Karen Handel in the GOP primary and Jack Kingston in the runoff, Grant sees Republicans as likely to “rally around David Perdue as the nominee. Republicans tend to support their nominee no matter what.”
Grant said that before the campaign season began, he didn’t see Nunn as having “a great chance in this cycle. Maybe in six years, when the demographics change. I didn’t think this was going to be a tipping point election anyway. I was waiting for 2018, when I saw the demographics as being quire beneficial to Democrats.”
This year, Georgia appears conforming to the national picture of Democrats likely to lose control of the Senate. In midterm elections in an incumbent president’s second term, his party generally loses seats, Grant said.
“Georgia is not immune to national trends, certainly not in the Senate race,” he said.