Today Republicans continue to hammer away at Iowa Dem Senate candidate Bruce Braley’s gaffe, in which he warned that a GOP Senate takeover will mean the Judiciary Committee will be chaired by an “Iowa farmer.” This is a reminder that a single offhand remark can change the face of a political campaign — and that Democrats can’t take even their safer Senate races for granted.
This, combined with the awfulness of the Senate map for Dems, means they’ll have to redouble their efforts at a surprise pickup of a red state Senate seat. And there’s one state where a similar transformative gaffe could make that possible: Georgia.
And as luck would have it, things are going a little crazy down there.
Georgia isn’t a state that you would have thought would be within reach for Democrats. But it’s not, by most measures you could devise, the most conservative state in the union. Barack Obama got a healthy 45 percent of the vote there in 2012, down only slightly from the 47 percent he got four years earlier. Granted, most of that was on his strength among non-white voters; 31 percent of the state’s voters are black, and another 9 percent are Hispanic. But still, there are a few states — Mississippi, Alabama, Kansas, Utah — that might come to mind before Georgia if you were asked where the most conservative place in the country is.
The likely Democratic nominee is Michelle Nunn, who is a well-known figure in the state, not least because she’s the daughter of former longtime senator Sam Nunn, and she’s as moderate as her father was. But on the Republican side, the race is without a doubt the wingnuttiest of the 2014 cycle, as five Republicans compete to see who can express the most hatred of Barack Obama and assure primary voters that there’s nobody more conservative than them.
Indeed, MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin described a recent candidate forum among the contenders as “a Russian nesting doll of populist conservative resentment,” a description that could apply to the whole campaign. One recent poll showed Rep. Paul Broun with a 13-point lead over his competitors. Broun is best known for saying: “All that stuff I was taught about evolution, and embryology, and the Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell … I don’t believe the Earth’s but about 9,000 years old.”
If Broun were to win the primary, Democrats would celebrate, because they view him as the candidate most likely to say something shocking and give them a chance to pull out a win (though Rep. Phil Gingrey may be more gaffe-prone, and his statements tend to feature plenty of crazy).
At bottom, the GOP Senate candidates are less like what you would expect from a Senate candidate, and more akin to southern state legislators who are working feverishly to tick off every item on the conservative wish list. This is underway in the Georgia legislature. It just passed a “guns everywhere” bill, apparently on the theory that Georgians aren’t taking their firearms to enough places. The new law loosens restrictions on carrying in government buildings, airports, churches, and perhaps most notably, bars. (Because we all know that’s one place where arguments never get out of hand and people never make rash decisions they later regret.)
Meanwhile, Governor Nathan Deal is deciding whether to sign another law the legislature passed, providing drug tests for people applying to get food stamps. Because being poor or unemployed isn’t hard enough already, so why not add a little extra dose of humiliation to the mix? That’ll get those losers to tug on their bootstraps. And in a prudent bit of fiscal responsibility, the Georgia bill requires the applicant to pay the cost of the drug test, up to $17.
If Georgia Republicans nominate a Senate candidate who sound more like a representative of the far ideological reaches of their party, and less like a politician of national stature, then Democrats might have a chance to steal a seat they didn’t think they could get. As the Braley remark shows, Dems will have to maximize their chances wherever they can.