First Georgia Senate Polls

Max Cleland

Max Cleland

Two different pollsters tested the Georgia electorate about their new open Senate race (Sen. Saxby Chambliss retiring) and came away finding that one party’s strongest candidate is someone who shows no interest in running.

Both Harper Polling (Feb. 11-12; 939 registered Georgia voters; 375 Republican primary voters; 338 Democratic primary voters) and Public Policy Polling (Feb. 15-18; 602 registered Georgia voters; 366 Republican primary voters) found that Democratic former Sen. Max Cleland, who served one term from 1997 to 2003 (he lost his 2002 re-election to Sen. Chambliss 46-53 percent), would defeat all potential Republican nominees if he were to run in 2014. The former senator, now 70 years old, has given no indication that he is contemplating a political comeback, however.

Tested against the four Republican US representatives who have either entered the race or are considering such, Harper projects that Cleland would place ahead of each in this early going. He would beat Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA-10), the one announced candidate, 40-24 percent. Paired with Rep. Tom Price (R-GA-6), Cleland leads 41-27 percent. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA-1) trails him 26-39 percent. Harper Polling did not test Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA-11) against Cleland.

Public Policy Polling also finds Cleland leading, but by much smaller margins. He tops Broun 47-40 percent; he leads Price by only a single point, 44-43 percent; he out-distances Rep. Gingrey 46-41 percent; and he has a three-point advantage over Rep. Kingston, 46-43 percent. PPP also tested former secretary of state and gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel, although she may be more likely to run for Rep. Price’s House seat should he enter the Senate race. In any event, the results suggest that Cleland enjoys a hypothetical 47-40 percent advantage over Handel.

Both firms also tested Rep. John Barrow (D-GA-12) against the Republicans. Barrow has twice said he is not running for the Senate, but reports from the state indicate that the congressman is trying to extract a promise from Democratic leaders that they will clear the nomination field for him so he would have ample time to raise the $15-20 million necessary to becoming competitive against the eventual Republican nominee.

Both pollsters show very close contests between the Republicans and Barrow, meaning much better results for the GOP. When paired with Rep. Price, Harper forecasts that the Republican would lead Barrow 23-18 percent. Against Rep. Broun, Barrow has a slight 19-17 percent advantage. Rep. Kingston records the exact opposite result of Broun. He leads Barrow 19-17 percent.

According to PPP, two Republicans lead Barrow, but he also leads two Republicans and ties a third. Rep. Kingston fares the best, leading Barrow 43-40 percent, while Rep. Price clings to a one-point 43-42 percent edge over the Augusta area congressman. Barrow ties Rep. Broun at 38 percent, but leads both Rep. Gingrey and Handel by the same narrow 43-42 percent score.

Harper Polling tested the Republican primary, and found Broun to be in first place with 19 percent of the vote, followed by Reps. Gingrey (18 percent), Price (17 percent), and Kingston (13 percent). With such a high undecided/refused to answer rate (33 percent) and these candidates bunched so closely together, no one has any particular advantage.

Geographically, the major metropolitan Atlanta suburban congressmen, Rep. Gingrey and Rep. Price, should have an advantage, while Rep. Kingston would be in the most difficult position, hailing from smaller Savannah. Rep. Broun has the advantage of basically representing two districts during his career, thanks to redistricting. Originally elected from the Augusta-Athens area, his new district now stretches into central Georgia, even coming close to the outer reaches of both Atlanta and Macon.

Early polls are always inconclusive and these two are no exception. What they do show, however, is that no likely candidate is an overwhelming favorite, nor is there one who is drastically behind. Since the data basically encourages all comers, expect even more Peach State political action to soon begin percolating.

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