It is not a mirage. In the Deep South, Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn is surging.
Of all the polls in the field in October in the Peach State, Nunn has tied or enjoyed a slight lead over Republican nominee David Perdu. On Friday morning, a CNN/ORC survey showed Nunn with her widest lead yet – 47 to 44 percent – over her Republican challenger. A third party candidate is drawing another 5 percent of the vote while 4 percent remain undecided. That poll also found incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal trailing his opponent, Democrat and former President Jimmy Carter’s grandson, Jason Carter.
Republicans remain justifiably skeptical that Nunn, despite being a strong recruit for Democrats, can pull off a victory in Georgia. While she is capable enough, and the state could shift in her direction to give her a plurality of the vote on Election Day, that race would head to a runoff in January. While CNN/ORC estimates that Nunn would receive a majority of the vote in January, CNN concedes that polling cannot model a hypothetical runoff electorate months after the midterms.
In order for Nunn to win in November (or January, for that matter), she will need to syphon off just enough of the state’s more enthusiastic Republican voters to make up for what pollsters estimate are 2010 levels of excitement among pro-GOP partisans. A recent Insider Advantage poll suggests that is possible – that poll found Nunn securing the support of just under 10 percent of Georgia’s GOP vote while Perdue netted less than 8 percent of Democrats.
That is more reason to be skeptical that Nunn can surge into the lead on Election Day. Republicans in Georgia are probably a lot like Republicans in Kansas; they could live without their state’s GOP nominee in Congress, but they are not willing to surrender the upper chamber to Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) for another term. For his part, Barack Obama is still not making it any easier on Nunn in her quest to appeal to moderates and weak Republicans.
“If Michelle Nunn wins, that means that Democrats keep control of the Senate, and that means that we can keep on doing some good work,” the president told a local radio station recently in an effort to gin up enthusiasm among African-American voters. You can bet that this sound bite will be all over Georgia’s airwaves in coming weeks.
But Republicans do have their work cut out for them. Democrats have recently received $1 million in advertising time in Georgia, and are dominating the ad wars. Make no mistake, Nunn’s momentum is real and Perdue has some ground to catch up with. It remains, however, an uphill battle for Nunn to turn Georgia – a Republican state in a Republican year – blue. She has everything going for her save the fact that Georgia voters know a vote for her is a vote to keep the Democratic Senate majority.