Randy Evans – The Evans Report: GOP Senate Primary – Anything Can Happen


Randy Evans – The Evans Report: GOP Senate Primary – Anything Can Happen

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From Randy Evans: The Evans Report

GOP Senate primary: Anything can happen

Don’t believe the polls. Regardless of what anyone says, no one knows what will happen in the GOP senatorial primary on May 20. With five viable candidates, the race is really just about the top two slots for the runoff on July 22. Unlike most other political contests, there is no front-runner.

Not surprisingly, a variety of polls recently made the airwaves as the primary approaches. Having the benefit of a litany of polls, both public and private, the fact is that the two runoff spots remain completely up for grabs.

Over the course of the primary, there have been some mini-momentum shifts along the way. Congressman Paul Broun started early banking on capturing the Tea Party/Libertarian constituencies with hopes that national players come to Georgia on his behalf. It has not happened.

Congressman Phil Gingrey first tapped into his sizable political war chest with early political advertisements aimed as branding him as a doctor committed to repealing Obamacare in the U.S. Senate. He followed up with a pledge to step down after one term if he was unsuccessful in repealing and replacing Obamacare.

Then, Congressman Jack Kingston started to make a move as various political insiders started to see him as the safest bet for defeating the unexpected candidacy of a meaningful Democratic contender, Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former Democratic Georgia Sen. Sam  Nunn. Indeed, many believed that Congressman Kingston was on the verge of becoming the preferred candidate until he made a comment about students working for receiving free school lunches – what does this mean?

In the world of politics, nothing derails building momentum faster than a candidate getting “off message.” The flurry of media coverage (largely stoked by political opponents from both political parties) kept him off message just long enough to keep the race for both runoff slots wide open.

Then, businessman David Perdue used crying babies in a political advertisement to separate himself from the rest of the pack. Indeed, the advertisement so resonated with Republican voters that he appeared to be moving toward locking down one of the two runoff spots, and for good reason.

One of the most challenging political realities for members of Congress running for re-election or seeking higher office is Congress’ unpopularity. Over 75 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Congress does its job.

In Georgia, these kinds of congressional disapproval numbers put David Perdue’s crying baby advertisements right in the wheelhouse for leveraging off of a notable anti-Congress sentiment among voters, especially with three members of Congress in the GOP senatorial race. And, the truth be told, his advertisements did just that.

But then, almost if right on cue, David Perdue had his own off-message moment in a speech in Macon indelicately referencing the lack of a college degree by another candidate and the fact that he was the only one to have lived overseas. Former Secretary of State Karen  Handel, who does not have a college degree, seized the moment.

In politics, timing can be everything, and that could not be truer than in the case of Karen  Handel’s momentum moment. Noting that most Georgians don’t have college degrees, Handel put businessman Perdue on defense – or, in more political terms, moved him off message.

Like Congressman Kingston, businessman Perdue then spent most of his time defending his comment (and eventually apologizing) instead of riding the momentum he had created. Meanwhile, former Secretary of State Handel used the moment to unload her guns with high -profile endorsements from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and political news commentator Erick Erickson. In sum, she made the most of it and it showed.

Yet, in the world of politics, it is the staying power that makes for ultimate success and in most circumstances that staying power comes from money. Specifically, it comes from the ability to make hefty purchases of paid media through direct mail, electronic mail, radio and television.

And so, Congressman Kingston’s old station-wagon commercials have returned his campaign to the “play it safe” model in hopes of easing into the runoff with very little fanfare. David  Perdue will rev up his contrast to the rest of the field. Former Secretary Handel will rally grassroots. Congressman Gingrey in his lab coat will become a nightly staple for everyone watching television. And, Congressman Broun will stand up for core Republican constituencies wired to challenge the establishment, knowing that with so few votes making such a big difference, it might be enough.

But, in the scheme of things, after all of the mini-momentum swings, all of the candidates are within a few points of each other heading into the home stretch of the primary – with an undoubtedly expensive and competitive primary runoff to come. Spending and resources in these last days of the primary have to be tempered with the prospect of competing for another couple of months for the July 22 runoff.

Meanwhile, Democrats find great hope in the seemingly complete lack of enthusiasm for any of the GOP candidates.

Remember, with this many candidates in the GOP primary, it is unlikely the top two candidates combined will get 50 percent of the votes cast in the GOP primary. With 25 percent or less as the benchmark for making the runoff, every vote counts big and even the smallest of momentum changes can be the difference between making the runoff, or finishing at the back of the pack. With these dynamics, anything can happen (including a recount) and probably will.

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