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Georgia Senate Race to Test GOP

Broun, first member in race, would be problematic as general-election candidate

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Broun is the only announced member running in the race to succeed Chambliss. But some GOP operatives worry he is too conservative to win in the general.

Conservative Rep. Paul Broun once called evolution, embryology and the big-bang theory “lies straight from the pit of Hell.”

For Republicans yearning for Senate candidates who can appeal to moderate voters and win general elections, that’s exactly where Broun has come from.

On Wednesday, the Georgian became the first member of the GOP to launch a bid to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss in 2014. His announcement kicks off what could be the longest, bloodiest, most ideological Senate primary this cycle — just as the party grapples with how to nominate candidates with broader electoral appeal.

A group of influential Republicans, including strategist Karl Rove and American Crossroads President Steven Law, announced over the weekend a new third-party group to support conservative GOP candidates who can win general elections. They were partly inspired by last cycle’s Senate losses in Indiana and Missouri, where the conservative primary victors lost races in traditionally GOP states.

Multiple Republican strategists familiar with the Senate landscape privately described Broun as being in the mold of those two 2012 Senate nominees. He recently said “the only Constitution that Barack Obama upholds is the Soviet constitution.”

“If he is our nominee, this is Indiana redux and that’s a big problem,” a national GOP operative familiar with Senate races said, referring to 2012 Indiana Senate nominee Richard E. Mourdock. “The chances of [Broun] winning statewide are not good.”

The good news for Republicans: Broun could be joined by two to four fellow House members. Republican Reps. Phil Gingrey, Tom Graves, Jack Kingston and Tom Price are mulling bids.

Georgia Republicans see no immediate leader of the pack. But with the potential for multiple current and former statewide officials and self-funding candidates to also jump in the race, the Peach State GOP could face a long and muddy slog to the July 2014 primary.

“There is no front-runner,” said Georgia GOP consultant Tom Perdue, who has advised Chambliss since 1993.

Gingrey and Kingston appear closest to getting in the race. At first, Republicans viewed Price as almost certain to jump in, but he has dramatically scaled back the speed with which he is approaching a run, insiders said.

“Price doesn’t feel like he’s in a huge rush. He’s just fundraising and chugging along,” said Joel McElhannon, a Georgia GOP consultant. “But that has led to a lot of rampant speculation down here that he won’t run.”

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