In the summer of 2013, weeks before Michelle Nunn announced her run for the U.S. Senate, a nationally recognized Democratic VIP asked me if I thought she would fulfill the rumors and finally throw herself into the race. Referring to the extremely right wing members of Georgia’s House delegation who had joined the Republican field of candidates, he punctuated his question by saying, “With all those crazy people running, she could actually win this thing.”
By the end of the GOP primary and subsequent runoff, all the “crazy people” had fallen, leaving Romney-esque businessman David Perdue as the Republican nominee, meaning Nunn had to find something besides the sanity card to play in the lead up to November.
With all due respect to the aforementioned Democratic vizier, anyone who expects the Georgia Democratic nominee for Senator to fail because she doesn’t have a foe with “loser” tattooed on their face, doesn’t understand that Michelle Nunn will win on her own strengths and merits, not because of her family name, and not because of a lame opponent.
In the South, you don’t win elections based on who you are or what you say, as much as what you do, meaning how you show up in the community. Nunn shows up big in the wide spectrum of communities that matter to Georgians, from the needy to the corporate giants that dominate this state, like Delta Airlines, Coca Cola and Home Depot.
Her campaign has not only received donations from R.E. “Ted” Turner – who recently donated $20,000 to her Super PAC – but also from Arthur Blank (Home Depot co-founder and owner of the Falcons), real estate developers Tom Cousins (Cousins Properties), Jim Cox Kennedy (Cox Enterprises), and John Wieland (John Wieland Homes). With the exception of Turner, as Bloomberg reported last fall, they all have something else in common – they’ve given heavily to Republicans in recent cycles, including to Romney in 2012 and Georgia’s other senator, Johnny Isakson (R), in 2010.
“Michelle understands that middle ground, and that’s why we wrote the checks,” Wieland explained to Bloomberg, last year.
It’s not only the political “middle ground” that Nunn gets, but the social middle ground as well. The volunteer organization she started 25 years ago, Hands On Atlanta, works directly with United Way to provide willing hands for the charity organization’s many good works, including helping the homeless, veterans and battered women and families. That is where her heart is.
Michelle’s other connection to corporate Georgia comes directly through the organization’s corporate partners. These are not just blind dollars going into a charity’s coffer. United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta creates a community for its friends, including regular breakfast meetings where volunteer community leaders mix with the corporate community. Besides Cox, Delta and Coke, other million dollar United Way of Atlanta supporters include AT&T, Wells Fargo and UPS.
The other positive her work with Hands On has brought her is the outcome of the group’s merger with the Points of Light Foundation, where she was CEO. It has brought her into the room with presidents, including President George H.W. Bush whose words inspired the founding of the organization.
Recently, Nunn has been under fire from Perdue’s supporters because of her insistence on using photos of her with the elder Bush in ads, as a demonstration of her bipartisanship. Bush 41’s camp has repeatedly requested her not to use the photo, as the former president has publicly thrown his support to fellow Republican Perdue. But it’s likely that endorsement was out of party unity, and not because of any animus toward Nunn.
When the GOP started accusing her of running an organization that “gave money to organizations linked to terrorists,” current Points of Light CEO and son of G.H.W. Bush, Neil Bush, reacted angrily.
“It really makes my blood boil to think that someone would make that kind of an allegation,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in September, “whether it’s an independent political group or a candidate for office.” He added:
“Neither Points of Light nor Michelle Nunn have had anything to do with funneling money from our organization to terrorists organizations. Anyone who makes that claim needs to understand the facts and then they need to denounce those claims. To attack an organization founded by my father, whose integrity is unimpeachable, to smear our organization for political gain, is in my opinion shameful.”
The Democratic nominee is out with a new ad that again shows a photo of her with Bush 41, but also one with her standing near the last President Bush, and one with President Obama, to bolster her claim that she can “work with Republicans and Democrats.”
The Nunn ad is a counter to a commercial for Perdue featuring a photo of Obama’s arm around Nunn, implying she’ll be a “rubber stamp” for his policies. In her spot, Nunn says the photo of her and Obama was taken at the same event as the photos of her and the elder Bush, so instead of showing her allegiance to our president, it demonstrates her bipartisan approach.
Indeed, in his earlier defense of Michelle Nunn, Neil Bush went on to praise Nunn for demonstrating “the right kind of visionary leadership – a non-partisan or bipartisan approach to our service world.”
It is precisely that approach to serving the public at all levels that makes her such an appealing candidate, and why she has been leading in the most recent three polls, albeit within the margin-of-error. Her work demonstrates she is authentically engaged in making the world a better place for everyone, rich or poor, Republican or Democrat.
Perdue’s outsourcing debacle and his stated pride in that activity points to the real problem with the Republican playbook in Georgia – an awareness by the rank and file that the economy may be doing well for the wealthy, but remains stagnant for everyone else. As reports surfaced recently of a secretive Swiss investment fund for multimillionaires being part of his portfolio, it threatens to expose him as an elitist fat cat who doesn’t think blue collar jobs matter.
Politico posted a report from Georgia, Thursday, where they examined why the outsourcing attacks are taking a toll on Perude’s campaign:
“Nunn, in an interview after an event in Decatur[, Georgia,] this week, called Perdue ‘out of touch’ with Georgia citizens. ‘I was surprised at his response, and I think most Georgians have been whether by starting out by saying he was proud of his career in outsourcing or then moving forward and saying that Georgians didn’t understand business.'”
“Republicans are supposed to be the party of American business and the economy and all that,” Augusta resident Elizabeth Grubbs told Politico, “but [Perdue]’s moving jobs overseas. It isn’t right.”
The 30 year old Waffle House waitress, who leans Republican, is unsure about Nunn, too, but recognizes the economy isn’t getting better. “It’s still crap,” she said.
The numbers bear that out, for Georgia. For the second month in a row, the state has been dead last, with the worst unemployment in the country, at least two points higher than the national numbers. The Wall Street Journal points out that the decline in manufacturing jobs in the Peach State in the last ten years is largely responsible for that.
Yet incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal (R), in a tight reelection race with State Sen. Jason Carter (D), has been running around touting Georgia’s number one status as a “place to do business.” So yes, given the tax breaks he has offered companies to relocate to Georgia, companies are coming here, but jobs are not. A good environment for business does not directly correlate to a good environment for jobs.
With low paying retail and service sector jobs filling the void, “don’t expect Ms. Nunn to stop her attacks any time soon,” warns the Wall Street Journal. “Outsourcing attacks may have become common among Democrats, but they seem to have particularly fertile ground in which to take root in Georgia.”
To be clear, there’s no Romney class jealousy, here. No one begrudges Perdue his millions, but in what way does his ability to make money for himself and his clients help most Georgians, other than the fat cats in this state whose own purses are sure to be padded if he wins? He will make a couple of hundred investors happy, but there are more than 6 million of us who have a stake in Georgia. Both David Perdue and Nathan Deal ignore us at their own peril, and to the detriment of their party, which is due to flame out in Georgia in the next few years, anyway. They’re just the ones driving the train as it derails.