ATLANTA — A rare open U.S. Senate seat in Georgia promises a scrambled 2014 campaign.
Democrat Barack Obama lost the state in both of his White House races, and it’s a seat that Republicans cannot afford to lose as they try to regain a Senate majority for the final two years of his presidency.
U.S. Rep. Paul Broun and U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, both conservative physicians, are the only Republicans to announce officially since incumbent Saxby Chambliss said he will retire. But the GOP primary field eventually could include as many as a half-dozen candidates with a credible shot at a runoff spot.
Broun drew national headlines last year for calling evolution and the Big Bang Theory “lies straight from the pit of hell” during commentary at a church.
He’s flouted GOP leaders on recent fiscal votes, saying the party’s position wasn’t conservative enough.
In a recent fundraising letter, he boasted that he was the first member of Congress to call Obama “a socialist who embraces Marxist-Leninist policies.”
That makes Broun a tea party and evangelical favorite.
Democrats control 55 seats in the Senate, and Republicans would need to hang on to the ones they control and pick up six more next year to take control for the first time since 2006.
“It’s going to be a free-for-all with a lot of dominoes,” said Sue Everhart, the head of the state GOP.
The state Democratic chairman, Mike Berlon, said U.S. Rep. John Barrow, a moderate from Augusta, is an ideal candidate to assemble a majority coalition of blacks, white urban liberals, suburban moderates and just enough rural conservatives. “We’re already close,” he said, noting that Obama got 47 percent in 2008 and 45.5 percent in 2012 “without the national party lifting a finger.”
Barrow has not announced his intentions.
The only other Democrat making strong overtures is Michelle Nunn, a not-for-profit executive who’s the daughter of former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga.
On the Republican side, U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah is expected to enter the race soon. He raised $843,000 in the first quarter, about 10 times what he collected during the same span two years ago when he was seeking easy re-election.
Rep. Tom Price, vice chairman of the House Budget Committee, has said he won’t make a move until after Congress passes a budget. But he’s also got to consider that many GOP donors and strategists are lining up behind Gingrey or Kingston.
The longer Price waits, the more likely it is that Karen Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state, will run. After losing the 2010 Republican primary runoff for governor, Handel worked for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. She resigned amid controversy over her push to dissociate the organization from Planned Parenthood, a provider of women’s health care and abortion services.
Two electoral newcomers would bring their personal wealth to the campaign.
Businessman David Perdue also has name ID as the cousin of a popular former governor.
Kelly Loeffler is a co-owner of the Atlanta-based company that recently bought the New York Stock Exchange and Atlanta’s professional women’s basketball team. She’s never run for office but has been increasingly active in Georgia GOP circles.