Rep. Paul Broun wants to be a senator, but the Georgia Republican’s far-right legislative record might make it difficult for him to prevail in a statewide race.
Particularly damaging for Broun, who is running in 2014 for a seat left open by Republican Saxby Chambliss’ retirement, could be his penchant for pushing amendments that are viewed as extreme, even by many in his own party.
The most recent example came this past week, when Broun offered an amendment to zero out the budget for the Transportation Security Administration at a time when Americans are concerned about unemployment numbers and airport security under the duress of the sequester. The proposal was offered during floor debate on a bill to fund Homeland Security operations for fiscal 2014.
“Congress intended for TSA to be an efficient, cutting-edge, intelligence-based agency responsible for protecting our airports ... but today it has grown into one of the largest bureaucracies in the federal government,” Broun said on the House floor. He explained that the amendment would force "Congress and the Department of Homeland Security to start from scratch on a leaner, more effective ... and more productive system for protecting our U.S. citizens.”
The amendment was rejected by voice vote, with even Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Carter, R-Texas, calling it “good grandstanding but bad policy.”
This isn’t the first time Broun has sought to eliminate funding for the TSA, and it follows two years of attempts to make deep cuts into what he considers to be wasteful spending on a variety of government programs. As a prolific participant in the amendment-offering portion of legislative debates, he has narrowed in on cutting money from the Smithsonian and the United States Botanic Garden, the National Weather Service and the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program.
And while this aggressive approach to fiscal conservatism makes him a favorite among libertarian and tea-party-minded voters — former Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Texas recently endorsed Broun — GOP operatives and strategists predict that it will ultimately cost him support with the more mainstream Republican base that makes up the Peach State's electorate.
A veteran Republican operative in Washington, D.C., said he did not think “the TSA [amendment] is going to matter more than any other of his crazy votes,” adding that his bona fides “might marginally help him in a primary [but are] clearly not going to help him in the general.”
A Georgia Republican strategist, however, said that latest targeting of the TSA could very well come back to haunt Broun.
“All the things that he continues to do is going to be fodder against him,” the strategist said. “I think the [TSA amendment] will absolutely come up. ... It feeds into the idea that he is this extreme guy who kind of deals with things in a sledgehammer approach instead of understanding the real policy issues that are at play.”
Broun has said he supports privatizing the TSA, but the Georgia-based strategist said the would-be senator lacked foresight and should have also offered an alternative to keep airports and passengers safe.
Georgia is home to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, a major transportation hub and source of jobs in the metro Atlanta area.
Broun is seeking the Senate seat as the Republican primary crowd continues to grow. Fellow GOP Reps. Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston have thrown their hats in the ring, along with former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel and David Perdue, the cousin of former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue.
Republicans speaking to CQ Roll Call on background predicted the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is probably at the edge of its seat hoping that a candidate like Broun wins the nomination to increase its chances of claiming a victory there.
And there’s plenty of precedent for Democrats in other states to capitalize on hard-right conservatives, like Todd Akin in Missouri or Sharron Angle in Nevada.
One factor Broun will have to contend with, though, is that Georgia has a runoff primary, so he will have to get a bulk of the party behind him even if he leads in the first round.
Meanwhile, DSCC national press secretary Justin Barasky insists that all the GOP candidates currently in the running give Democrats an upper hand.
Of the TSA amendment in particular, Barasky said it was the “the kind of reckless extremism you’re going to see from this group of candidates as they try to one-up each other."
He added, “I think we are in a really good position no matter who gets nominated."
Michelle Nunn, daughter of longtime Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., is expected to be the Democrats' standard-bearer in the race.
Annie Shuppy contributed to this report.