Georgia Democrats are buzzing with excitement Thursday over a statewide ticket featuring two candidates from famous Peach State political families, Jason Carter and Michelle Nunn.
The political realities of Georgia will make Democratic wins tough to come by next year. But Democratic strategists are hopeful for a symbiotic relationship in which Michelle Nunn's Senate campaign will benefit from Jason Carter's run for governor, and vice-versa. There are a couple of reasons why.
One involves ginning up excitement and money. Democrats in Georgia have had little to get excited about in recent years. Having candidates with recognizable last names makes it easier to raise money and more likely that voters and potential new voters will tune in.
Nunn, the head of the Points of Light Foundation and the daughter of former senator Sam Nunn, has already proven she can raise big bucks for her Senate bid. Carter, a state senator and grandson of former president Jimmy Carter who just announced his bid for governor, could also potentially raise big money thanks to his own family's political roots.
Georgia Democratic strategist Tharon Johnson, whose firm has ties to both candidates, said having them both running for office has "created an incredible amount of excitement among Georgia Democrats." Nunn's non-profit experience, Johnson said, and Carter's legislative resume, make them qualified for reasons going beyond their last name.
The other reason Democrats are jazzed is the idea that Nunn and Carter could complement one another politically. Nunn's father was popular with white, rural voters, while Carter's grandfather was popular among African Americans. If the two can follow in those footsteps, the thinking goes, they can build a robust coordinated effort to win back the Senate seat and governor's mansion.
But Republicans aren't buying it.
"Putting up two white liberals from downtown Atlanta will not help Democrats turn out their largely African American base in November," said GOP strategist Joel McElhannon. He added that only "a very small portion of our electorate ever voted for a Nunn or a Carter. The implied Carter or Nunn political machine in Georgia simply does not exist."
Rapid growth of the Hispanic and African American populations in recent years in Georgia has spurred Democratic interest in turning the state blue. The two demographic groups tend to side heavily with Democrats.
But no one expects change overnight in a state that has been firmly Republican at the gubernatorial and Senate levels for most of the last decade. That's one reason why Nunn and Carter are decided underdogs about a year before the election.
There are also questions about stability within the state Democratic Party. The party just elected a new chairman who was not the first choice of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and former governor Roy Barnes, influential players in the party. The previous head of the party was weighed down by legal problems.
Nunn's hoping that the crowded Republican race is turbulent, expensive and produces a weak nominee. Rep. Paul Broun, a controversial candidate, would be the ideal opponent for Democrats. But if the GOP nominates a more moderate Republican such as Karen Handel, the former secretary of state, Nunn looks to face a steep uphill climb.
As for Carter, 2014 could be a good chance to lay the groundwork for another run for statewide office down the road. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) is not considered to be among the country's most vulnerable or unpopular governors, making Carter's task a mighty difficult one. But running now could win Carter goodwill — not to mention a base of political support — for another run in 2014, a point at which Democrats will have had four more years to try to shift the ground in Georgia. And Carter is just 38.
For Democrats broadly, 2014 is more realistically also about the long view in Georgia. The party's goal is registering new voters and building a lasting coalition. Excitement about 2014 — even if it does not translate into wins — could go a long way toward helping them do that.