Open U.S. Senate seat could have a domino effect on Georgia politics

By Saba Long

For a few politicians and political advisors, the past few days have been filled with rapid fire text messages and battery-draining cell phone calls about the biggest news to impact metro Atlanta in quite a while —  the 2014 election to replace retiring U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss.

The first — and only to date — polls released jointly by political consulting firms H.E.G. and Apache just hours after the announcement already has Georgia Republicans and Democrats strategizing on how to ensure their party secures the open seat.

With 1,126 individual surveyed, those who have voted in at least two of the last four primary elections, former presidential candidate Herman Cain leads the pack of credible Republican candidates by a comfortable 39.3 percent.

Following Cain — who stated on Twitter he is not interested in running — are U.S. Congressman Tom Price, former Gov. Sonny Perdue and Congressman Jack Kingston at 8.5, 7.3 and 6.8 percent, respectfully.

The far-right U.S. Congressman Paul Broun, listed first in the survey, polled at 6.6 percent ahead of former gubernatorial candidate and former Secretary of State Karen Handel, Congressman Lynn Westmoreland and Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

Undecided voters equated to 22.6 percent of those surveyed.

Crosstabs showing regional support compared to the rest of Georgia show Broun and Kingston with the widest spread with 83.8 and 93.5 percent of their votes coming from outside the region. Cain, Handel, Kemp and Perdue all polled at 30 percent and above in both metro Atlanta and the rest of the state.

First listed on the Democratic survey is State Representative Stacey Abrams who has received accolades in national and regional press for her pragmatic approach to legislative issues. Yet, Abrams is second to last in the poll results with a mere 3.8 percent of the vote amongst likely voters.

While State Senator Jason Carter polled at a mere 4.9 percent of the vote, he has yet to tap into his family name which could bring in considerable fundraising and involvement from national Democratic heavyweights.

It should be no surprise that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed rests atop the ladder at 25.6 percent of the vote. Also, it is striking that there is more consensus among Republicans than among Democrats, with what can be described as a 13.7 percent “excitement gap” between Cain and Reed.

Following Reed are former Secretary of Labor Michael Thurmond and former Attorney General Thurbert Baker at 14.5 and 11.9 percent, respectively. Undecided Democratic voters polled at 21.2 percent.

Lead pollster Fred Hicks of HEG noted, “Elections are as much about who decides not to run as who does.  Cain says he’s out, so the Republican field is wide open.  Reed can be the candidate or the heavy, whichever he chooses. He is in the driver’s seat.”

It is also noteworthy that Reed, a municipal office holder, is running ahead of two previous statewide elected officials in Baker and Thurmond.

With Congressman Tom Price strongly signaling his intent to run for the Senate, H.E.G. and Apache conducted a similar poll over the weekend of potential Republicans in the 6th Congressional District.

The top three contenders are State Senator Judson Hill (20 percent), Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones (11.1 percent) and Roswell Mayor Jere Wood (8.8 percent). Roswell City Councilperson Betty Price, wife of Congressman Tom Price, polled at 7.8 percent.

All politics is local and if we experience competitive Congressional and Senatorial campaigns, the effects could result in open seats for Atlanta City Council, Georgia House and Senate and committee chairmanships and hierarchy at the Gold Dome.

As Bert Brantley a Republican strategist and former press secretary to Gov.Perdue, observed: “This one decision by a sitting U.S. Senator could end up affecting more than two dozen elected positions once all the dominoes have fallen.”

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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