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Michelle Nunn’s Big Challenge: Breaking 50 Percent

Nunn is introduced by state Sen. Freddie Powell Sims at an April campaign event. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Nunn is introduced by state Sen. Freddie Powell Sims at an April campaign event. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The competitive open-seat Senate race in Georgia has become an unwanted liability for Republicans’ chances of winning a majority, but Democrat Michelle Nunn still has a perilous path to win a majority of the vote on Nov. 4.  

National Republicans, who just spent $1.4 million more to support their nominee, say David Perdue is still ahead. But his comments about his “outsourcing ” past have undoubtedly breathed new life into the Nunn campaign — and given national Democrats their best offensive opportunity.  

Still, with a third-party candidate expected to take a chunk of votes, an unfavorable national climate and a small margin for error in this Republican-leaning state, Nunn has several hurdles standing in the way of her best chance for victory — winning a majority of the vote on Election Day. Perdue would be favored in a Jan. 6 runoff because turning out the vote then would be an even heavier lift for Democrats.  

“The numbers are strong,” said state Rep. Stacey Abrams, who recently led a statewide voter registration drive aimed at young minorities. “It’s certainly all about turnout, which is a generic trope, but real. If we can turn out the voters, she can win in November. But we have to be prepared for any eventuality, and I think the campaign is prepared for that.” Any Democrat running statewide in Georgia, where a surge in minority voters is dramatically altering the makeup of the population, has to capitalize on new voter potential to pad the party base, while also persuading a significant percentage of moderate Republicans to cross over.  

Georgia’s first-ever session of early Sunday voting should help Nunn turn out black voters, while recent public polling indicates Nunn’s chances with the latter improved after a rough couple weeks of news clips for Perdue.  

The race began moving in Nunn’s direction when Perdue said he was “proud” of his business record, which included outsourcing jobs. The comments came in reaction to the unearthing of a 2005 deposition, during which Perdue said he spent “most of my career” outsourcing.  

The Nunn campaign jumped on the news, pumping out three TV ads within a week highlighting those comments. And two recent public polls found Nunn with small leads, though within the margins of error and below 50 percent.  

“There is no better way to pick up blue-collar white voters than with outsourcing, and he walked right into it,” one Democratic operative said.  

Spotting an opportunity, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee dumped $1 million into TV time in Atlanta, where the booming exurbs will likely decide the race.  

Abrams said her group, the New Georgia Project, registered 86,000 voters — mostly black, Hispanic and Asian voters younger than 35 — while another 30,000 were registered by partner organizations. The Nunn campaign, which has not released any internal polling, did not respond by press time about how many voters it had signed up through its coordinated field efforts.  

Tharon Johnson, an Atlanta-based Democratic consultant and the national southern regional director for President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign, said that should be enough to get Nunn over the top.  

“The Nunn campaign has focused heavily on presenting a message that resonates with women and moderate Republicans in this state, while at the same time pointing out David Perdue’s failed record,” he said.  

In a briefing with reporters last week, Rob Collins, the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, conceded the race had tightened but said the concept of Nunn winning outright on Nov. 4 was “a bridge too far.” Doing so would mean Republicans must pick up at least seven Democrat-held seats to win the majority — an achievable goal, but certainly not preferable.  

“Perdue has to get through this current debate, message sequence he’s going through,” said Collins, who noted the NRSC is working to ensure Perdue either wins on Election Day or is in strong position to win in the runoff. “He’s doing a good job of getting back on track.”  

Collins also noted Perdue needs to introduce himself to the rural counties on the Florida border and in the Savannah area — essentially the south Georgia political base of Rep. Jack Kingston.  

Republicans in the state offered a similar take, noting that Nunn, one of the top fundraisers in the country, benefited from a cakewalk primary, while Perdue was forced to go to head-to-head with Kingston until winning the July 22 runoff.  

“After a tough primary and runoff she was able to drown the airwaves with attacks while Perdue was forced to reload his campaign coffers,” said Georgia GOP consultant Joel McElhannon. “My sense is that the Republican coalition in Georgia is seeing the danger of a Nunn candidacy and continued Democrat control of the Senate, and rallying to Perdue.”  

The next vital step for Democrats is to get out the vote, and the party is taking advantage of Sunday voting. Fulton County held the first Sunday voting day over the weekend, during which churches bused voters to early voting polling places after their worship services. Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta dubbed its effort “Souls to the Polls! ”  

Sunday voting will continue this weekend in several more counties, including DeKalb in metro Atlanta, which is 55 percent African-American.  

“I think there will be an aggressive push and supporting efforts from a variety of organizations that want to leverage Sunday voting opportunities,” Abrams said. “I think we will see a fairly strong turnout.”  

The race is rated Leans Republican by the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.  

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