Democrat Barack Obama lost the state in both of his White House races, and it’s a seat that Republicans cannot afford to lose as they try to regain a Senate majority for the final two years of his presidency.
The question is whether a bruising party primary becomes a liability, particularly if voters nominate U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, who once called evolution and the Big Bang Theory “lies straight from the pit of hell.”
Broun and U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, both conservative physicians, are the only Republicans to announce officially since incumbent Saxby Chambliss said he will retire. But the GOP primary field eventually could include as many as a half-dozen candidates with a credible shot at a runoff spot.
Broun, whose district includes the University of Georgia in Athens, drew national headlines last year for that science commentary he delivered at a church. He’s flouted GOP leaders on recent fiscal votes, saying the party’s position wasn’t conservative enough.
In a recent fundraising letter, he boasted that he was the first member of Congress to call Obama “a socialist who embraces Marxist-Leninist policies.”
That makes Broun a tea party and evangelical favorite. To other Republicans, however, such comments stir memories of 2012 losses in Senate races in Missouri and Indiana where the GOP nominees, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, made controversial comments about women, rape and abortion.
“There’s no question that the Republican Party in Georgia and the nation are concerned that we could have another Todd Akin-type scenario here,” said Heath Garrett, a Republican campaign consultant and former top aide to U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.
Democrats control 55 seats in the Senate, and Republicans would need to hang on to the ones they control now and pick up six more next year to take control for the first time since 2006.
At least one more Georgia congressman is likely to jump in, and a trio of Washington outsiders is considering the race: a wealthy Atlanta businesswoman who helped bankroll a Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign; the former Susan G. Komen Foundation executive who took on Planned Parenthood; and the cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue.
“It’s going to be a free-for-all with a lot of dominoes,” said Sue Everhart, the head of the state GOP.
Isakson said he’s neutral in the primary.
National conservative groups FreedomWorks and Club for Growth — which have helped tea party candidates such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas win high-profile races — say many candidates have talked to them about support. For now, both groups say they’re watching the field develop.
Democrats believe they can tap into the Missouri-Indiana playbook, particularly if U.S. Rep. John Barrow, a moderate from Augusta, runs.