GOP Senate Candidates in Georgia Make Their Case

Seven candidates vying for the Republican nomination for Senator shared the stage in Augusta, trying to separate themselves from the pack and polish their conservative credentials.

It was the sixth of seven scheduled debates, and turned out to be a fairly sedate affair, reports the Savannah Morning News:

In a debate here Saturday, most of the leading contenders jumped over one another to highlight their conservative credentials on issues from spending, environmental regulation and immigration to guns and abortion, even as they agreed the party must reach beyond its base if it wants to win more nationally.

Proposals ranged from scrapping the Environmental Protection Agency to repealing the constitutional amendment that allows an income tax.

The debate highlighted the eventual nominee’s challenge in the race, despite Georgia leaning to Republicans in recent federal elections. The May 20 primary electorate — and a likely July 22 runoff — will be decided by the state’s most conservative voters. Democrats want to frame the eventual GOP nominee as too extreme in a state where Obama got as much as 47 percent of the vote with little effort.

The winner will succeed retiring Republican Saxby Chambliss. Nationally, Republicans must gain six seats to regain control of the Senate, but that would be extremely difficult if they lose a Georgia seat they already have.

Rep. Paul Broun, a favorite of conservative activists, used his signature critique of “an out of control federal government” several times Saturday. In a discussion of Obama administration rules capping carbon emissions, he argued that “there’s no scientific consensus on man-made global warming.”

Phil Gingrey, another House member and a physician like Broun, said he doesn’t agree with the administration that “carbon dioxide is definitely a greenhouse gas.”

“You might say that a preponderance of scientists believe that CO2 is a greenhouse that contributes to global warming,” but then he quickly doubled-down on his critique.

Their congressional colleague, Jack Kingston, meanwhile, peppered his answers with references to his sterling ratings from groups such as the American Conservatives Union, National Rifle Association and National Right to Life. He also boasted of an endorsement won Friday from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has kept its promise to engage more directly in 2014 Republican primaries in an effort to subdue tea party influences.

Kingston’s recitations reflected his strategy to appeal both to archconservatives and establishment Republicans, without alienating either camp in the internal struggle that has gripped Republicans since Obama’s election.

Kingston sits in second in the most recent polls, trailing David Perdue and ahead of former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel. But with Kingston's 15% of the vote, 19% for Perdue, and 13% for Handel, it seems certain that no candidate will receive the necessary 50% of the vote in the May 20 primary, which will force a July runoff between the top two vote getters.

Reps. Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey are within striking distance of second place, with 11% and 9% of the vote respectively. This should make the last month of the campaign very interesting.

Any of the top 5 candidates will do well against the expected Democratic nominee, Michelle Nunn, daughter of a Georgia political legend former Senator Sam Nunn. In head to head matchups with the top 5 GOP candidates, Nunn is within one or two points of all except Perdue who is ahead by 5.