The Washington Post

Why Paul Broun is a problem for Senate Republicans, but one they can solve

One state that could well test the GOP’s approach to nominating Senate candidates this cycle may sound surprising.

We’re talking about Georgia.

Yes, the predominantly red state of Georgia, where Rep. Paul Broun (R) announced his Senate campaign on Wednesday. For several reasons, Broun would be a problematic nominee for his party. The good news for Republicans fearful of Broun winning the nod, though, is that there are a lot of reasons why it probably won’t happen.

Rep. Paul Broun. (Gregory Smith -- AP)

Let’s start with why Broun wouldn’t be a strong general election nominee. He’s an outspoken conservative with a knack for stoking controversy with his public statements. He once said, “All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell.” He also recently accused the president of upholding the “Soviet constitution.”

“He’s going to say things that are going to make him unelectable, even in an ultraconservative GOP primary in Georgia,” said one unaligned Georgia Republican speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to provide a candid assessment.

When Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) announced his intention to retire last month, he opened the door – ever so slightly – to the prospect of Democrats competing for his seat. To be clear, Republicans remain heavy favorites to hold onto it. But under the right circumstances, Democrats would have a fighting chance.

And nominating Broun could provide them with that chance. As the past two cycles have shown, nominating flawed candidates – Todd Akin, Sharron Angle, Richard Mourdock, Ken Buck, Christine O’Donnell – can cost the GOP seats, even on GOP-friendly terrain.

The good news for Republicans who don’t want to see Broun nominated is that there are some tall hurdles he will have to jump though to get there. For starters, a candidate must win a majority of the vote to claim the nomination in Georgia. So Broun won’t be able to slip though a crowded field with plurality support on the first ballot.

A second obstacle is money. Broun had only about $156,000 in the bank at the end of last year, and will have to prove he can raise the money necessary to compete in the state’s pricey Atlanta media market.

For his part, Broun signaled Wednesday that he will focus his campaign around a message fiscal restraint.

"I’ll be the only candidate in this race whose first priority is to stop the runaway spending in Washington D.C.," he said. "I’ve sponsored more legislation to reduce spending than any other Member of Congress from this state."

It’s not like Broun is the only conservative option for this race – which is where the “test” part comes in. A new national GOP effort was recently launched to promote electable Senate candidates and protect them in primaries from the unelectable ones. In Georgia, there’s a handful of choices from which the new group, and perhaps, Senate Republicans' campaign arm, could find a candidate to rally behind who would be strong in the general election, and would also satisfy conservatives.

GOP Reps. Tom Price and Tom Graves, and former secretary of state Karen Handel would fit that bill. Rep. Phil Gingrey, a deeply conservative Republican who recently got into some hot water defending some of Akin's controversial remarks, might still fare better in the general election than Broun. Another option is Rep. Jack Kingston, though he scores lower than Graves, Price and Gingrey, on the anti-tax Club For Growth's scorecard.

So far, the Club and the Senate Conservatives Fund – two groups with proven financial muscle that have openly bucked the establishment in Senate races – haven’t chosen sides in Georgia. That’s a good thing for Republicans hoping to identify electable candidates, because it means they are not necessarily at odds with the influential organizations. At least, not yet.

Georgia is a red state, but it contains some Democratic strongholds and moderate voters who might opt to go with a conservative Democrat over a controversial Republican. With the right Democratic nominee and the wrong GOP one, Democrats may stand a chance of surprising a lot of people. That’s why Republicans must approach the nominating process there with the utmost attention.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.

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