By Walter C. Jones
Morris News Service
ATLANTA — The scramble for an open seat in the U.S. Senate is likely to resemble bumper cars more than the usual cliché of a horserace because of so many candidates.
In the space of about 10 days, it suddenly went from “crowded” to downright congested with nine candidates so far. It’s still 11 months before the primary, so more office seekers could join the fray. Plus, the Libertarian Party has yet to pick its candidate.
At least it has a variety of candidates: three congressmen, three physicians, two immigrants, two former firemen, two wealthy businessmen, two who launched charities, two women, two blacks and one Asian, but no lawyers.
They hail from all over the state: Athens, Augusta, Savannah, Sea Island, Columbus and metro Atlanta. A pair of candidates are newcomers from South Georgia political families.
Such a large field of six almost guarantees a runoff on the Republican side and increases the possibility on the Democratic side with three. Since the candidates know this, they’ll seek to raise enough money from the beginning to carry them through a prolonged primary/runoff season with the possibility of a general-election runoff as well.
That will soak up money being sought by the two declared gubernatorial candidates and the 19 declared congressional candidates. The competition for funds will be the first battleground and one closely watched by pundits.
GOP candidates David Perdue and Eugene Yu are certain to put into their campaigns some of the personal wealth they amassed in business before their retirements.
Perdue said, “I will be the campaign’s biggest investor.”
The money, of course, is for advertising, which will become another battleground later. Simply reserving adequate television air time will result in a tug-of-war of sorts between all of these candidates for various offices and may spur sales of DVRs and satellite television systems in the spring as viewers flee wall-to-wall political ads.
Even competition for news coverage will be a battleground, what political operatives call “earned media.” Just listing all of the candidates will consume space that would have gone toward explaining their views, so journalists will decide which are the most viable and concentrate on them. That’s won’t be easy in the GOP contest with three congressmen, a former statewide official and two businessmen who can self-fund a credible campaign.
Competition for earned media can lead to some whacky gambits, from stunts like sitting on towers and walking across the state to cartoonish political ads of giant rats and outlandish allegations. Political junkies are sure to be entertained.
Which candidates benefit from these circumstances?
As in any campaign, high name recognition and fundraising prowess are vital. A large base vote, though, becomes increasingly important with each new contender.
That makes additional battlegrounds of the various political factions. For Republicans, that will be libertarian conservatives, anti-abortion Christians and economic conservatives. For Democrats, it will be blacks, environmentalists and gays.
The latest entrants have legitimate claims to some of these factions, which increases the pressure on the older campaigns to focus more on targeted messages that pull them away from appeals to broader themes that will attract independents in the general election.
For example, many observers have speculated that Paul Broun’s social conservatism would force the other Republicans toward the right to contend for the anti-abortion Christians and libertarians. But with the arrival of Perdue and Yu, competition for economic conservatives suddenly became more fierce, which pulls centrist candidates into a fight for that faction as well. If they stray too far, they risk yielding a large faction to Broun.
A candidate who can command a faction as his or her base then has the freedom to compete for other factions. They’ll seek to consolidate a base as quickly as possible in this phase of the campaign through earned media and personal appearances at faction events which gobbles up time that would otherwise be spent raising money.
How to do this is why political strategists garner so much money. They’ll certainly have to earn it in the months ahead.
Walter Jones is the Atlanta bureau chief for Morris News and has been covering Georgia politics since 1998. Follow him on Twitter @MorrisNews and Facebook or contact him at [email protected]