COMMENTARY | As two-term Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss appears ready to break with the Grover Norquist anti-tax pledge, hardline conservatives are weighing a primary challenge to the veteran lawmaker. If they do, they’ll hand the seat to the Democrats, no matter who wins on the Republican side.
Here are the three ways the Republican Party can lose Georgia.
1) Georgia wasn’t a blowout for Republicans in 2012. Even while some polls claimed Mitt Romney had a 21-point lead, I kept telling locals here in the Peach State it would be closer, thanks to a poll during the GOP primary showing Obama much closer to all of the Republican candidates. Sure Romney won Georgia, but only by 7.5 percentage points, almost a third of the lead projected earlier. It was the 11th-closest state in popular vote margins. Democrat Rep. John Barrow also won re-election in a new district drawn for Republicans.
2) Democrats won Senate seats in several red states. Again, Democrats were predicted to lose the U.S. Senate. But they won Senate races in several states that Romney captured in the Electoral College by bigger margins than Georgia.
Exhibit A: North Dakota. Romney beat Obama handily in this state 58 percent to 39 percent. Yet Democrat Heidi Heitkamp won a narrow contest by a percentage point over Rep. Rick Berg.
Exhibit B: Montana: Romney also took this state, capturing 55 percent of the vote to Obama’s 41 percent. But that didn’t stop freshman Democrat Sen. Jon Tester from winning reelection against Rep. Denny Rehberg.
Exhibit C: Indiana: Romney took the Hoosier State against Obama by 11 percentage points. But Rep. Joe Donnelly got Dick Lugar’s Senate seat, defeating State Treasurer Richard Mourdock.
Exhibit D: Missouri: Romney beat Obama by nearly 10 percentage points in the “Show Me State.” Yet vulnerable Missouri Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill easily won re-election against Rep. Todd Akin.
3) Republicans have a habit of killing each other off in the primaries. Bitter primaries in 2010 and 2012 left weakened candidates (either establishment candidates or tea party radicals) with less money, negative ratings, and plenty of campaign mud for Democrats to scoop up. It sounds a lot like the presidential election in 2012 too, doesn’t it? It also happened in Georgia’s 12th Congressional District, handing the race to Democrats.
4) Democrats appear to have learned the lessons of bad primaries. Democrats might have done a little better if they hadn’t had so many bitter primaries of their own, costing their party Senate seats in Arkansas and Pennsylvania, among others. But the Democrats learned their lesson in 2012, cutting down on these contests. As a result, a unified Democrat Party was ready for a bloodied Republican primary winner.
While Saxby Chambliss and someone like conservative blogger Erick Erickson or Rep. Tom Price or ex-Rep. John Linder battle each other in an expensive bruising primary, Barrow, former Rep. Jim Marshall, or ex-Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond could take the seat, leading to more GOP woes in 2014. So maybe “primarying” Chambliss isn’t such a great idea.
John A. Tures is an associate professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.