For the first time in recent memory, four congressional seats in Georgia are open at the same time, providing ample opportunity for the Peach State’s farm team of up-and-coming state legislators to unleash their ambitions.
Republicans have been lining up for a chance at the three open House seats and one open Senate seat, knowing that an opportunity like this won’t come around again for another decade.
“In metro Atlanta, there really hasn’t been an open congressional seat. ... You have to go back several years,” said Bryan Tyson, an election law attorney in Georgia. “Many people are thinking, ‘This is my one shot. Whoever wins this seat will be there for the next 10 to 15 years.’ So that’s coloring some of the ambitions happening here.”
Democrats, however, have been more reluctant to throw their hats into the open races, likely because they know they’ll face more favorable odds for victory a few cycles down the line.
While Georgia’s last round of redistricting made seats safer for Republican candidates, the state’s changing demographics could make 2016, 2018 and 2020 better bets for Democrats than this midterm cycle.
“2018 is the time frame when Democratic chances tend to get a lot better, or possibly 2016 with the presidential-election year,” said Tim Alborg, a Democratic consultant with the Atlanta-based firm Landslyde.
Republicans at the Ready
Republican state legislators have piled onto the open House seat races left by Republican Reps. Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston, who are running for the state’s first open Senate seat in a decade.
Gingrey’s district has thus far garnered the most interest, with four Republicans announcing their candidacies. They are:
• Former Rep. Bob Barr, a former federal prosecutor who served for eight years in the House.
• State Sen. Barry Loudermilk, a libertarian-leaning legislator from the Floyd County area.
• State House Majority Whip Edward Lindsey.
• Tricia Pridemore, a businesswoman who recently left a position in Gov. Nathan Deal’s administration.
Kingston’s 1st District seat has drawn three Republican hopefuls:
• State Sen. Buddy Carter, who hails from the Savannah area.
• Darwin Carter, a businessman and former member of President Ronald Reagan’s administration.
• David Schwarz, a former senior staffer for Kingston and current Republican consultant.
In Broun’s 10th District, state Rep. Donna Sheldon, the GOP caucus chairwoman, and Jody Hice, a radio host and Southern Baptist pastor, have announced their intentions to run.
Other potential candidates in that race include former state Rep. John Lunsford and Watkinsville City Councilmember Brian Brodrick.
Brodrick “is very strategic and may not take a shot at it this time but will definitely be in the mix in the future,” said Keisha Vaughan, communications director of GOPAC, a Republican organization that trains state and local politicians for higher office.
While many Republicans are looking to run this cycle, there are others still biding their time.
One is state Senate Majority Leader Ronnie Chance, who would likely run for Rep. Lynn Westmoreland’s seat when he decides to step aside.
“Once Congressman Westmoreland retires, Chance would be at the top of the list,” Vaughan said, adding that Chance, “has great knowledge and experience from being floor leader, economic development chair, finance chair and majority leader, all while only having been in the state Senate for fewer than 10 years.”
Democrats on the Move
Democratic consultants in Georgia rattled off a long list of viable candidates for the open seats.
Potential Democratic Senate candidates in 2014 include:
• State Rep. Scott Holcomb, an Iraq War veteran who is finishing his MBA.
• Michelle Nunn, CEO of the volunteer organization Points of Light and daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn.
• State Sen. Doug Stoner, whose 2012 race determined whether Georgia Republicans got a constitutional majority in state government and who has been mentioned as a potential candidate to fill Gingrey’s seat.
But many of the state’s other standouts will likely hold out for future opportunities.
• State House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, the first woman to lead either one of the state chambers and a tax attorney who writes romance and detective novels on the side.
• State Rep. James Beverly, an optometrist from the Macon area who gives free eye exams and helps build low-income housing for area residents.
• Atlanta City Councilmember Alex Wan, the first Asian-American and openly gay man elected to the city council.
• State Sen. Jason Carter, the grandson of President Jimmy Carter. The senator is also the cousin of James Carter, the Democratic opposition researcher who released the “47 percent” video of Mitt Romney speaking at a private fundraiser.
Other state legislators who may not be ready this cycle, but who will be attractive candidates in the state down the line include:
• State Rep. Stacey Evans, who along with Jason Carter helped found Red Clay Democrats, a fundraising organization for Georgia Democrats.
• State Rep. David Wilkerson, an accountant who was the first African-American to serve as chairman of the Cobb County Democratic Party.
• Freshman state Rep. Spencer Frye, who has a strong fundraising base in the Athens area.
• State Rep. Margaret Kaiser of the Atlanta area.
With such a deep bench, state Democrats are excited for their opportunities down the line.
“Georgia is turning blue,” Georgia Democratic Party Communications Director Eric Gray said. “Most prognosticators say by 2020 this will be a Democratic state. So for every year we can make it happen sooner is just a testament to the strength of the Democratic Party down here.”
Farm Team is a state-by-state look at the up-and-coming politicos who may eventually run for Congress. The column runs on Thursdays.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.