Clarity in Georgia, North Carolina Senate Races?

Two of the more important Senate races in this 2014 election cycle are occurring in Georgia and North Carolina. Both states are in play for the general election; each party holds one of the two seats, both are major targets, and crowded Republican primaries in the pair of places will soon be clarified.

If several new polls are accurate, certain candidates may be breaking away from their respective packs as we approach the May 6 North Carolina primary and the May 20 vote in Georgia. If a candidate exceeds 40 percent of the NC vote, that person is nominated. In the Peach State, it takes the traditional 50 percent plus one vote to claim the nomination outright.

Georgia Primary: May 20 – Run-off, July 22

This is one of two Republican seats, Kentucky (Mitch McConnell) being the other, where Democrats are competitive. The Republican primary features five accomplished candidates, all of whom can construct a reasonable path to victory. A run-off is a virtual certainty here, but many scenarios exist about which two Republicans will advance from the initial primary vote. The eventual GOP nominee faces consensus Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn (D) and executive director of former President George H.W. Bush’s inspired Points of Light foundation. In a letter from Board chairman Neil Bush, Nunn was granted a leave of absence from her position during the senatorial campaign.

According to a new Survey USA poll (April 24-27; 501 likely Georgia Republican primary voters), former Dollar General CEO David Perdue leads the crowded group of candidates with 26 percent of the vote. Placing a clear second registering 20 percent is Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA-1), who has raised the most campaign money. Former Secretary of State and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel is third with 15 percent; Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA-10) fourth at 13 percent; and Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA-11) is falling well off the pace posting only six percent.

This survey appears consistent with the patterns that began forming last month. Perdue, the cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue (R), has successfully campaigned against the four current or former office holders as a group illustrating that he, unlike them, is not a politician. Rep. Kingston has used his financial resources to create momentum and appears to be gaining upward mobility even though his ads tend to highlight more past than future. The Savannah congressman is also solid in the southern part of the state, while the others are splicing the more populous Atlanta metro/central Georgia vote.

Clearly, Handel and Rep. Broun are still within shouting distance, particularly regarding second place, and with three weeks remaining, both remain competitive. Rep. Gingrey, originally thought to have a strong chance of qualifying for the run-off, has failed to catch fire, run a lackluster campaign, and is now only a long shot to advance.

While this is still very much an undecided race, what was once a race among five close competitors now displays clear delineation.

North Carolina Primary: May 6 – Run-off, July 15

For several months, the virtually unknown Republican candidate field has likewise been closely bunched. A second consecutive poll, however, now shows state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) gaining enough momentum to be considered a potential outright primary winner. Avoiding a grueling run-off campaign that won’t be decided until July 15 would be a boon to Republican hopes of defeating first-term Sen. Kay Hagan (D).

Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling (April 26-28; 694 likely North Carolina Republican primary voters) finds Tillis now jumping out to a 46-20-11 percent lead over physician Greg Brannon and Charlotte pastor Mark Harris, more than enough to exceed the 40 percent threshold. Last week, a Survey USA poll conducted for the Civitas Institute posted Tillis to 39 percent support.

The swing toward the state House Speaker is a significant turn just as this campaign begins to conclude. A closing week providing Tillis similar movement to what we have just witnessed will clearly award him the nomination.

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