Nate Cohn chose today to drop his story on how demographic trends bring Georgia surprisingly within reach for Democrats. I guess that is true, but the timing is funny. The race was close to begin with, and then yesterday’s primary was a boost for the GOP. In my view, that is the real story.
Like many, I expected Rep. Jack Kingston to be the Republican nominee in the Georgia Senate race. But businessman David Perdue bested him by about 1 percentage point. This was a substantial miss for polls, which showed a median 5.5-point lead for Kingston. However, that is par for the course for primary-season polls (dissected here). It is hard to predict which partisans will turn out.
However, general-election polls are more reliable in the aggregate. What they tell us is that the Democratic candidate, Michelle Nunn, probably got the toughest opponent possible for November. Out of six survey organizations who polled Georgia in 2014, only one gave Kingston a lead over Nunn (median margin, Nunn +2.0±2.9%). In contrast, three out of six gave a lead to Perdue over Nunn (median margin, Perdue +1.5±2.9%). That means Perdue is a stronger candidate, by 3.5% in the general election. (Note that there is a small chance, 1 in 10, that actually Kingston is stronger.)
To back up a bit, Nunn’s chances in November are still not that bad. Perdue, despite being cousin to a two-term governor, is himself new to running for office. He could make another misstep, like denigrating people who “just” went to high school. But all the same, voters coalesce around their nominee after the primary season. In the coming weeks, we should expect movement toward Perdue. At this point I would call Nunn the underdog, by a small margin.
This season, the Republican party has mostly picked their strongest Senate candidates during the primary season: Mississippi (Senator Thad Cochran over Tea Partyite Chris McDaniel) and Alaska (Dan Sullivan over Mead Treadwell). Georgia adds to that list. The one misstep has been Iowa, where Mark Jacobs probably would have been a better choice than Joni Ernst, who subscribes to fringe ideas like the threat of United Nations Agenda 21. Tea Party-like Republicans aren’t a major factor in the 2014 Senate campaign. However, they are keeping the GOP in line, both in agenda and tone. This is more apparent in the House, where they continue to go after – and win – nominations in heavily Republican districts. Whatever happens in November, we will have pretty much the same Republican party next year.