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Michelle Nunn Pre-Announces Senate Candidacy

Points of Light CEO Michelle Nunn, a Democrat, said yesterday that today she will announce that she is running for the Senate seat currently held by retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA). Normally, the pre-announcement or even the announcement of a Democrat managing a nonprofit that she was running for the Senate wouldn't be newsworthy, but Nunn is a special case.

Two factors make her candidacy of note. First, her father, Sam Nunn, a conservative Democrat, was a four-term U.S. senator from Georgia, serving from 1972 to 1997. The elder Nunn, was an expert on foreign and military affairs and was one of the most respected voices on these subjects in the whole country for years. He was--and still is--respected in Georgia like few other politicians. He was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times. It would be hard to name a Georgia politician who had the gravitas he had in his prime. Not even Jimmy Carter could match it. Michelle is not Sam, of course, but voters over 40 who hear the name "Nunn" are likely to think back to the time when reason ruled the Senate and intelligent discussion of the issues was daily fare. Now it is simply unthinkable. Younger voters are going to be exposed to a lot of nostalgia when the campaign starts. Thus the younger Nunn starts out with an edge that any politician would envy. She also will benefit from her father's numerous contacts and donor network. Michelle's announcement will immediately clear the field of other potential Democratic nominees.

The other big factor in the race to replace Chambliss is that the Republican primary is going to be a giant food fight. Three right-wing members of the House, Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey, and Jack Kingston, have already started their primary campaigns. Also in the mix is Karen Handel, a former Georgia Secretary of State who was later senior vice president of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, where she cut off funding for Planned Parenthood and got herself into hot water for doing so. This will be a very competitive primary, with each of the candidates trying to position himself or herself further to the right than the others. Given that Handel became famous for defunding Planned Parenthood because one of the many services it offers is abortions, it is inevitable that abortion will be a key topic during the primary. All the candidates are most likely going to say they are against abortion in all cases, including cases of rape and incest. Equally inevitable is that some reporter is going to ask why a woman who has been raped should be required to carry the rapist's child to term. Saying "tough luck" is not going to be popular with women voters, so the candidate will be forced into Todd Akin/Richard Mourdock territory of basically saying rape victims don't get pregnant or that it is God's will. The trick is to say this artfully and in such a way that it resonates with the Republican primary electorate but does not prove fatal in the general election. Right now it is too early to tell who is leading the pack as so much can and will change before the June 3, 2014 primary.

Georgia is a fairly red state, so generally Republicans win statewide races. However, the 2012 presidential election there was not a complete blowout, as it was in, say, Alabama. Obama got 45.48% of the Georgia vote, compared to Romney's 53.30%. A key question is whether Nunn can outperform Obama, especially if Broun wins the primary and intentionally or inadvertently says something outrageous. One factor hurting Nunn is that minority and youth turnout is always low in midterm elections. In 2010, the total vote in Georgia was 2.6 million, versus 3.9 million in 2012. Furthermore, blacks who were motivated to stand in line for hours to vote for Obama may be less enthusiastic about Nunn.

On the other hand, women, especially independent women, may turn out in larger numbers if the general election is Nunn vs. one of the male congressmen and they may vote for Nunn just to see another woman in the Senate. If she runs as a conservative Democrat, like her father, it will be hard for the Republicans to tag her as a liberal. A Handel victory in the Republican primary would nullify Nunn's gender advantage with women but would be a wild card since it could bring rape front and center.

All things considered, the Republicans still have the edge here because the expected electorate will be fairly conservative. Nevertheless, a perfectly executed and well-funded campaign by Nunn coupled with a horrible brawl during the Republican primary with a bloodied and toxic Broun emerging as the bare winner, would give Nunn a shot at it. Stranger things have happened, including Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)'s surprise win in 2012, in a state that went for Romney by nearly 20 points. In any event, this has suddenly become a marquee race and one of the few states where the Democrats have a (small) chance of picking up a Republican seat. For that reason alone, it will command national attention, starting today.

Liz Cheney to Challenge Sen. Enzi in Wyoming

Although not important for control of the Senate, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, Elizabeth Cheney Perry, commonly called Liz Cheney, has decided to challenge Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) in the Republican primary. Ms. Cheney formerly served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs in the Bush administration, but as in the case of Michelle Nunn, it is not about the candidate, it is about her famous father. Like Nunn, her father's network will pour tons of money into her campaign. This race splits the Republican establishment, since Dick Cheney is still admired among conservatives and some of that love will no doubt spill over to his daughter. Naturally, Senate Republicans will defend one of their own.

Abortion is not likely to be an issue here because both Enzi and Cheney vehemently oppose it. What might be an issue, however, is same-sex marriage because Cheney's sister, Mary Cheney, is an open lesbian, who married her long-time partner, Heather Poe, in D.C. on June 22, 2012. Cheney is going to be forced to defend same-sex marriage in a state where it is unpopular. She will also be forced to fight off charges of carpetbagging, since she lived in Virginia until last year. She will try to beat back that charge by pointing out that her family moved to Wyoming in 1852 and her father represented the state in the House from 1979 until 1989.

Ultimately, although the primary may be bruising and colorful, it is completely different from the one in Georgia, since the Republican nominee, whoever it may be, will cruise to an easy general election win in this state where Obama got only 29% of the vote in 2012.

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