Georgia political leaders are mining the state for strong candidates

By Saba Long

For Georgia Democrats, the ability to win the seat soon to be vacated by Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss is improbable. Yet it could set the stage for the future of Democratic politics in the state.

There is much scuttlebutt surrounding the Republican primary and the merry-go-round of career politicians that have expressed an interest in the Senate race and possible subsequent open seats as a result.

Declared candidates include Congressman Phil Gingrey (R-Marietta) and Congressman Paul Broun (R-Athens).

The noncommittal but curious crowd include Congressman Jack Kingston (R-Savannah) and Congressman Tom Price (R-Roswell) and former Secretary of State Karen Handel who lost the gubernatorial Republican primary run-off by a mere 2,000 odd votes.

The Republican primary will inevitably turn into a litmus test of true conservative values and verbal sword fights in defense of the U.S. Constitution.

In a recent Washington Post article on Broun’s Senate candidacy, an anonymous Georgia GOP insider quipped, “He’s going to say things that are going to make him unelectable, even in an ultraconservative GOP primary in Georgia.”

While the chances of a Democrat winning Saxby’s Senate seat are slim — even with a “right, right” Republican primary, the right candidate and a robust ground game could lay the foundation for a highly contested 2016 Presidential election and the 2018 statewide constitutional officer elections.

Who is the right Democrat?

Some say it is a centrist such as Congressman John Barrow of Athens who has successfully escaped the jaws of defeat by redistricting. Barrow’s reelection record speaks for itself, however, as Georgia Democrats plot and plan an attempt to restore the  party’s strength question whether he will rally the base and increase voter registration.

In private conversations, many metro Democrats were perturbed by Barrow’s Republican-like tactics in his 2012 Congressional reelection campaign — including the gun-toting ad and his hesitancy towards all things Obama.

There is also State Representative Scott Holcomb, a former military Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps prosecutor, who could bring a fresh face to the campaign and give Democrats national security credibility. Where Holcomb would be challenged in fundraising capability and name recognition, he could make up for in a willingness to hit the pavement going door-to-door.

A Democratic primary between two Caucasian males, say Congressman Barrow versus State Senator Jason Carter, would be the most competitive and would undoubtedly likely attract the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). If Carter were to run statewide, this would be an optimal time especially if he were to have his grandfather, former President Jimmy Carter, by his side. The optics would be advantageous, and with the right message, allow the younger Carter to tap into a national fundraising ocean.

There is also a particular school of thought to use this campaign to go outside of traditional politics and rally behind a business or civic leader – including Bain consultant Peter Aman, former chief operating officer for the City of Atlanta; or Rev. Raphael Warnock of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church.

The right candidate is one that is electable yet exciting, attractive to minority voters ,and most importantly, someone who is able to speak to the values of the public.

Let’s hope the right candidate, regardless of party affiliation, emerges for the 2014 election.

Saba Long is a communications and political professional who lives in downtown Atlanta. She serves as the senior council aide and communications liaison for Post 2 At-Large Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson. Most recently, Saba was the press secretary for MAVEN and Untie Atlanta -- the Metro Chamber’s education and advocacy campaigns in supportive of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Referendum. She has consulted with H.E.G. an analytics and evaluation firm where she lent strategic marketing and social media expertise to numerous political campaigns, including that of Fulton County Chairman John Eaves and the 2010 Clayton County transportation referendum. In 2009, Saba served as the deputy campaign manager for the campaign of City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. Previously, Saba was a Junior Account Executive at iFusion Marketing, where she lent fractional marketing strategy to various ATDC technology startups operating out of the Georgia Tech incubator, ATDC. For the past two years, Saba has presented on online marketing and politics to the incoming fellows of the Atlanta chapter of the New Leaders Council.

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