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2014 Midterms: Key Issues in the Georgia Senate Race

Jamie Carson

Editor’s Note: As part of the 2014 Midterm Elections Series, we’ve asked experts from the ten states with competitive Senate races to answer six questions in a spotlight on each race, providing perspective on the dynamics in the state as we head toward Election Day. In this post, Jamie Carson looks at key issues in the Georgia Senate Race between David Perdue and Michelle Nunn.

1. What have been the three key issues in this year’s Senate race?

Since there is no incumbent seeking reelection in the Georgia Senate race, a major emphasis in the campaign has been on what type of senator each of the candidates would be since neither has previous elective experience. The most prominent issues that keep coming up in the campaign are the importance of ending gridlock in Washington, making sure that Georgia continues to be competitive in creating new jobs and lowering unemployment, and keeping health care costs manageable in light of the new health care reform mandates.

2. How have the candidates handled these issues and which candidate has been the strongest on those issues?

Both Nunn and Perdue have relied on a series of attack ads that have attempted to define the other candidate in a somewhat negative light. Perdue struck first by linking Nunn with a very unpopular President Obama and suggesting that her economic plans will not benefit the state’s economic recovery. However, Nunn has responded by suggesting that Perdue has outsourced a number of jobs overseas and that he is out of touch with women and the average voter.

3. Have any other issues resonated specifically with key demographic groups or interests and what are the implications for the race?

Nunn has clearly tried to appeal to women, racial and ethnic minorities, and low-income voters by suggesting that Perdue is an elitist who is out of touch with average citizens. Unfortunately, these groups tend to be the least likely to turn out to vote in elections. Perdue has emphasized his past experiences as a CEO to demonstrate that he will do an effective job in the Senate and will represent the state better than Nunn if elected.

4. How have outside surrogates, SuperPACs, or other outside spending played a role in the race?

As in many competitive races across the country, outside interests have funneled a considerable amount of money into the Georgia Senate race. According to Open Secrets, as of mid-October, SuperPACs such as the Ending Spending Action Fund and Southern Conservatives Fund along with the National Republican Senatorial Committee have funneled nearly $8,000,000 into the race against Nunn. This is almost four times the amount of money that outside groups have raised in opposition to Perdue. Former Presidents Carter and Clinton have actively campaigned for Nunn in the state of Georgia. Meanwhile, former President Bush (41) has endorsed Perdue in the race for Senate, despite the fact that Nunn serves as the chief executive of the Points of Light Foundation that President Bush helped start.

5. Midterms are often characterized by low turnout. What are your expectations about voter apathy/engagement in this race?

Turnout in midterm elections is typically much lower than in presidential election years. Two factors may mitigate against this somewhat in Georgia in 2014. The presence of a gubernatorial race may encourage some additional voters to go to the polls who might otherwise stay at home. Additionally, both the governor’s race and the Senate race look quite competitive, which often drives up turnout in a given election year. In light of the relatively high turnout in the Georgia primary (and the accompanying runoff in July), turnout could be slightly higher than normal in the Georgia elections next month as result of these factors.

6. National media attention to this Senate race has been substantial. What important aspects have the media overlooked that may surprise outside observers on Election Day?

In addition to the Senate race between Nunn and Perdue, Georgia is featuring a gubernatorial race between Republican incumbent Nathan Deal and Democratic challenger Jason Carter, grandson of former President Jimmy Carter. The presence of that race on the ballot may increase turnout beyond what we might normally see in a midterm election. Additionally, Georgia’s electoral system mandates that the winning candidate must receive at least 50 percent of the vote to be declared the winner. If neither Nunn nor Perdue reaches that threshold in next month’s election since there is also a Libertarian candidate running (Amanda Swafford), a runoff will be held on January 6, 2015 to determine the winner between the top two contenders. Depending on what happens in other Senate contests across the country, this could mean that electoral control of the Senate may not be officially determined until early January.

Ryan Williamson assisted with this post. 

Author

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Jamie Carson

Jamie Carson is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Georgia. He received his PhD from Michigan State University in 2003, where he was a fellow in the Political Institutions and Public Choice Program now located at Duke University. He has worked at the University of Georgia since August 2004 and his research interests include American politics and methods. He regularly teaches courses on the U.S. Congress, the presidency, the politics of congressional elections, and American political development.

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