TOPICS > Politics

Why winning Georgia is crucial for the GOP’s Senate hopes

July 23, 2014 at 6:20 PM EDT
In Georgia, voters selected David Perdue as the Republican candidate for the Senate election in November. His Democratic challenger, Michelle Nunn, is a fellow political novice and the daughter of a well-known former senator. Political editor Domenico Montanaro joins Judy Woodruff to discuss Perdue’s strategy, the competitive race ahead and why voting turnout is at a historic low.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to politics: Yesterday in Georgia, voters chose the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in what turned out to be a tight primary election.

It sets the stage for what will be one of the closest watched races of the year, a contest that could help decide control of the Senate.

With us to talk about this race and the broader Senate landscape is our political editor, Domenico Montanaro.

So, welcome back to being on air.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Domenico, the Republicans have now — it was a tight race. It was the runoff, but they have their candidate now. Tell us about him. His name is David Perdue. Who is he?

DOMENICO MONTANARO: David Perdue is the former CEO of Dollar General and the sneaker company Reebok, which everybody knows.

Jack Kingston is who he defeated 51-49, Kingston, a member of Congress. It shouldn’t be lost that David Perdue in this race was the only person who ran in this primary who wasn’t either a member of Congress or a former elected official, so he really played that outsider card.

He ran this ad depicting babies on the lawn in front of Congress crying, depicting all the lawmakers are crybabies, essentially. So he really tried to play that card, hit Kingston with being on that insider status. And that’s what part of what did help him. He also poured in about $3 million of his own money, which was certainly helpful.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Didn’t hurt.


JUDY WOODRUFF: So, now Perdue faces a well-organized Democrat. And, normally, this is Deep South, not fertile territory for Democrats, but in this case, she is the daughter of a well-known former senator.


And Democrats have some hope that Michelle Nunn, who is the daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn, will do fairly well in this race, and appears tied in most polling at this point with Perdue, because, one, her legacy and the name, but also because of the changing demographics of the state.

So I think that this is a state that the Democrats are starting to feel a little bit better about. And given the fact Perdue is kind of a political novice, has never run before, Nunn is in a similar situation, but she also has tried to play this outsider card.

Now you are going to see Republicans — and we have already seen Republicans take strong aim at Michelle Nunn. We know the Democrats are already picking apart David Perdue’s business experience, trying to reopen the Mitt Romney playbook, to say this is someone who cost jobs and who shipped jobs overseas.

The real question is going to be over the next two months, can Michelle Nunn withstand the barrage that comes her way?  If we look on Labor Day or two weeks after Labor Day and this race is still tied, this is going to be an actual potential pickup for Democrats.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And this race, as you and I were talking earlier, especially important to Democrats, because the overall — the national Senate landscape for them is not very friendly.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: That’s right. And that’s why we care about this race, because there are 12 races in the country that we should all be looking at right now.

But you can see from our map that 10 of those states are seats held by Democrats — well, or are Republican targets. Only two of those races are in places that are held by Republicans, Kentucky with Mitch McConnell, who is the minority leader, who could become majority leader, and this race in Georgia.

Well, if Georgia is on the board for Democrats, then the ability for Republicans to take back the Senate, to net the six seats they need out of this landscape, makes it much, much more difficult. There are already three states on this map that we have seen are likely heading toward Republicans in Montana, West Virginia and one other.

And you see that because of that, if Republicans aren’t able to hold Georgia, then the landscape becomes much more difficult for them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Democrats start out with a disadvantage, and it’s just tough.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Well, it is. But right now in Alaska and Arkansas, Mark Pryor and Mark Begich are doing very well and probably better than most Republicans thought they would.

And they may be a little bit of gum in the dam, so to speak, because if they can hold, then you see Democrats likely holding a one- or two-seat majority. If they lose, you could see a much broader wave come the Republicans’ way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I like that metaphor, the gum in the dam.

But the other thing, finally, I want to ask you about, Domenico, is this report came out yesterday from the — respected organization, saying that the turnout in this year’s primaries so far is not only down, but in most of the states where there have been primaries, it’s at historic lows.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Yes, 15 of the 25 states so far have seen historic lows.

And this is a trend, the pattern that we have seen since the 1960s, when there was a high in primary of about mid-30s of eligible population turning out from the study from the Center for the Study of the American Electorate. But now only 14.7 percent so far have turned out.

And there’s a lot of reasons for this. People are upset with almost everything. Pessimism reins. They are upset with the president. They are upset with Congress. They are upset with Republicans, who they feel are blocking the president. They are upset with the president, who they feel is using too much executive authority.

And it goes back and forth. People aren’t feeling much better about the economy, despite the headline economic numbers. And what it all leads to is a large disinterest, frankly, in what we’re seeing in politics, but it does have consequence. Elections have consequences, as we’re talking about whether or not the — who holds control of the Senate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s pretty depressing, and maybe people watching and all over the country will, you know, take notice and pay more attention to those races.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: I think anybody can be in favor of more engagement.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Domenico Montanaro, we thank you.