Savannah Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA-1), as expected, yesterday announced that he is entering the crowded open seat Georgia Senate race in what will become a trying and hard-fought Republican primary and run-off campaign.
Republicans already running are representatives Paul Broun (R-GA-10) and Phil Gingrey (R-GA-11). In the exploratory phase is former Reebok and Dollar General CEO David Perdue, a cousin of former governor Sonny Perdue (R), while former secretary of state and ex-gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel is a possible candidate. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA-6), who was expected to announce a Senate run as soon as Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) announced his retirement, now appears less likely to do so.
For the Democrats, Rep. John Barrow (D-GA-12) must now be rated as a probable contender for his party’s nomination. The congressman is attempting to secure a clear primary field so he can raise general election money throughout this year and next in unencumbered fashion, something he believes is critical for him to compete with the Republicans in the general election. Should he run, Barrow, a Blue Dog Coalition member, is the type of Democratic candidate who could run well statewide in Georgia. Such a development would mean the eventual winner of the Republican nomination dogfight would have no cakewalk in the general election.
Kingston, now serving his 11th term in the House, has to be considered on the long shot side for the nomination. Coming from the less populous southern part of the state — the vast majority of the Republican primary electorate resides north of Interstate 20 — the Savannah congressman will have to invest heavily in the expensive Atlanta media market to make himself known to his new constituency. According to his latest Federal Election Commission filing, Kingston possesses over $1.75 million in his federal campaign account meaning he begins his statewide quest from a financial position of relative strength.
The three congressmen all have their own base constituencies, though Rep. Broun has represented better than two full districts when considering the different redistricting configurations of his central/east Georgia region. Broun will likely have the advantage within the conservative grassroots, a very important asset in a southern GOP primary, but he will be in the most difficult financial position. Rep. Gingrey has an Atlanta suburban base and commands strong fundraising prowess.
But the other potential candidates have significant assets, too. Perdue is independently wealthy, will have a strong consultant team, and enjoys high name ID because of his cousin’s successful political career. Handel would be the only woman in the field of candidates and came through a similarly crowded 2010 gubernatorial primary actually finishing in first position. She lost to current Gov. Nathan Deal by a razor thin 50.2-49.8 percent margin in the secondary election. So, plausible victory scenarios exist for all of the major candidates.
The Kingston decision to vacate the House district brings a seat that redistricting made more Democratic potentially into play. The 1st District was likely a safe one for Kingston, but a new nominee may quickly find himself in a much more difficult general election than one might conclude from simply looking at historical election data.
Already saying he will run in the now open congressional district is Republican state Sen. Buddy Carter, who also served in the state House of Representatives. David Schwarz, a former Kingston congressional aide who is well entrenched with the incumbent’s political organization and may draw the congressman’s tacit, if not overt, support, is expected to soon announce. He will also be a strong contender.
The unfolding developments in the Peach State continue to suggest that Georgia could well become the hottest political state of the 2014 cycle.