ATLANTA — The four Georgia Republicans who want to succeed retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss all call themselves conservatives who oppose abortion.
Two are congressmen who recently voted in favor of a House bill to outlaw nearly all abortions beyond the 20th week after conception. Another candidate, a former secretary of state with her own national profile in the abortion debate, expressed support for the measure. Meanwhile, Rep. Paul Broun, an obstetrician, voted against it, saying it didn’t go far enough. That vote put him alongside abortion-rights advocates yet it garnered a de facto endorsement from a leading anti-abortion group in Georgia.
The divide exposes fault lines in an already divisive primary that some party figures worry could set up a repeat of 2012 losses in Missouri and Indiana, GOP-leaning states where Democrats successfully cast Republican Senate nominees as out of the mainstream based mostly on their views on abortion.
Broun, a conservative who has called President Barack Obama a Marxist and who drew national attention last year when he declared evolutionary theory “lies from the pit of hell,” defends his outlier vote – just six Republicans voted against the bill – because the proposal contains exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest.
As he put it: “I am extremely disappointed that House Republican leadership chose to include language to subject some unborn children to needless pain and suffering.”
While Republicans rule state politics in Georgia, strategists in both parties say Broun pulls the GOP primary field further to the right. That potentially gives Democrats an opening for the 2014 election in a state that Obama lost by single digits in 2008 and 2012 at a time when an influx of minority voters is making Georgia fertile future ground for the president’s party.
The GOP can’t afford to lose a Georgia seat it already holds as the party tries to gain the six seats necessary to win Senate control for the last two years of the Democratic president’s term. No Democrats have officially entered the race, though Atlanta philanthropy executive Michelle Nunn is mulling a bid. Her father, Democrat Sam Nunn, represented Georgia in the U.S. Senate.