Sept. 1, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Three's a Crowd: Republicans Flood Open Georgia Races

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
The retirement of Chambliss sparked a domino effect among Republicans in Georgia that resulted in 20 GOP candidates across the field for three House seats.

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.

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