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Three’s a Crowd: Republicans Flood Open Georgia Races

An unprecedented number of open seats in Georgia may seem like a congressional hopeful’s dream — but crowded primaries and cash-strapped donors have made campaigning difficult in the Peach State.

Six months before the primary, an onslaught of Republican candidates in a Senate and three House races has left GOP candidates fighting for funds and front-runner status.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ retirement sparked a domino effect among Republicans in Georgia. There are eight Republicans running for the GOP senator’s seat, including Reps. Jack Kingston, Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey. Their Senate bids have opened the 1st, 10th and 11th districts, respectively.

Twenty Republican candidates have announced bids so far for those three GOP-friendly House districts. In fields so large and unwieldy, it’s become difficult — and expensive — for candidates to distinguish themselves.

“At the end of the day, there’s not one candidate in any of those three races who has done anything to set themselves apart,” said Georgia Republican operative Chip Lake, a former Gingrey advisor. “All three of those races, as we sit here today, are wide open.”

Operatives say pinpointing top-tier candidates is more challenging because there’s parity among their paltry fundraising. In the third quarter, none of the 13 Republican candidates who filed for any of the three open House seats raised more than $170,000. In fact, the majority of the candidates didn’t even produce six-figure hauls.

“Georgia was hit super hard by the recession, so we’re already trying to recover. The big housing boom hit us hard here, so a lot of the folks who had that disposable income are keeping it tight,” said Georgia GOP consultant Ryan Mahoney. “We saw that in the 2010 cycle and in 2012. So it’s a tough time to be a candidate right now.”

Poor fundraising makes it difficult for House candidates to buy television airtime. In many cases, candidates must run ads in the pricey Savannah or Atlanta media markets. But airtime will come at a premium next year given the large number of races.

A new primary calendar only adds to the woes of these House hopefuls. An elongated nine-week runoff is three times longer than last cycle. This pushes the initial primary back to May, forcing campaigns to shake up their strategies.

With the money race at a standstill, many of the candidates are vying for endorsements and ad spending from outside groups such as the Club for Growth. The club has a history of getting involved in primaries in safe Republican seats such as these. For example, in 2010, the club helped Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., win an open seat in the 14th District.

But operatives say it’s unclear whether the club would get involved in these races before the runoffs. (A spokesman declined to discuss specific future endorsements in Georgia.) This forces candidates to find other resources to boost them to one of the top two spots in each primary.

Here’s a closer look at the Peach State’s three open House races in 2014:

Georgia’s 1st District

State Sen. Buddy Carter is the candidate to beat in this six-person GOP primary, Republican operative said. Carter reported $312,000 in the bank at the end of the third quarter. That’s almost double the amount of his closest competitor.

But several other qualified candidates could easily get second place and proceed to the runoff, Republicans said.

There’s surgeon Bob Johnson, a retired doctor in the U.S. Army, who says he plans to tap the wealthy medical community for support.

Republicans also described venture capitalist John McCallum, a former aide to Newt Gingrich, as another viable candidate for the second runoff spot. McCallum only entered the race recently, and his first fundraising report will be telling, GOP operatives added.

Georgia’s 10th District

The race to replace Broun in this exurban Atlanta district is the most unpredictable House contest in the state, GOP strategists say. None of the five candidates who filed third-quarter fundraising reports here broke the six-figure mark. What’s more, many of the candidates are from the same region in the district, further muddling the field.

Trucking company owner Mike Collins — the son of former Rep. Mac Collins, R-Ga. — recently released a poll that showed him leading the field. But that same poll showed nearly 60 percent of voters are undecided, leaving a huge opening for other candidates.

State Rep. Donna Sheldon could carve a path to victory as the only woman in the race, said local Republicans. Baptist pastor and radio host Jody Hice is likely to garner the support of voters who like Broun’s outspoken conservative personality. Meanwhile, veteran Stephen Simpson could garner the more moderate conservative vote.

Georgia’s 11th District

Eight Republicans are vying for this seat, currently held by Gingrey, making it one of the most crowded GOP primaries in the country.

Republicans predict former Rep. Bob Barr, who is making a comeback bid after losing in 2002, will likely make the runoff thanks to his high name recognition. But the race for second place is currently a tossup between businesswoman Tricia Pridemore, former state Sen. Barry Loudermilk and state House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey.

Loudermilk has received endorsements from conservative groups such as the Madison Project. But he ended the third quarter with a meager $64,000 in cash on hand.

Pridemore could sneak through as the only woman in the contest. Operatives say she could self-fund a bid if she wanted, thanks to personal wealth from launching a multimillion-dollar software company.

But Lindsey, with his ties to Republican power brokers in the state legislature, can’t be discounted either, operatives added.

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