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Georgia U.S. Senate opening leads to House candidate scramble

Open Senate race in 2014 triggers three openings in Peach State’s House delegation.

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

georgia mugATLANTA (CFP) — When the electoral smoke clears in November 2014, Georgia’s congressional delegation will look a whole lot different than it does now, thanks to an open Senate race that has triggered a flurry of House departures.

Three sitting Republican House members – Jack Kingston of Savannah, Phil Gingrey of Marietta and Paul Broun of Athens – have all announced bids for the Senate seat, which opened up with Republican Saxby Chambliss decided to retire.

This has left three of the state’s 14 districts with open races. However, none of those districts are likely pickups for Democrats.

Kingston’s 1st District is along the state’s Atlantic coast. Gingrey’s 11th District includes Atlanta’s northwest suburbs, and Broun’s 10th District cuts across largely rural areas in the eastern part of the state. All of those areas are heavily Republican. Mitt Romney took 67 percent in Gingrey’s district, 63 percent in Broun’s, and 56 percent in Kingston’s.

Karen Handel

Handel running for Senate after taking on Planned Parenthood

In addition to Kingston, Gingrey and Broun, the GOP Senate race has also drawn former Secretary of State Karen Handel, who has deep roots in heavily Republican North Fulton County and is a protégé of former Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Handel got into a runoff for the GOP nomination for governor in 2010, shooting to a surprise first-place finish in the first round of the primary after a last-minute endorsement from Sarah Palin. But she could not hold off the runoff charge of then-Rep. Nathan Deal, who went on to win the governorship.

She then became vice president of the Susan B. Komen Foundation and became mired in controversy after the breast cancer-awareness group pulled its grants to Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider. Handel eventually resigned, but the flap could help her with pro-life groups in her fight for the GOP Senate nomination.

Kingston and Gingrey are both veteran members of the state’s GOP House delegation. Gingrey is from the Atlanta suburbs, which is where GOP races are usually won or lost. However, Kingston’s base on the coast is also a heavily Republican area that could provide enough votes to get him into a runoff in a four-way race.

Paul Broun

Broun: Evolution from “pit of hell”

Broun, a medical doctor by trade, is the most controversial figure in the race. A widely circulated YouTube video showed him giving a speech to a fundamentalist Christian group in which he said evolution, embryology and the Big Bang Theory were “lies from the pit of hell.” He has also charged that President Obama is a “socialist who embraces Marxist-Leninist policies.”

No doubt those views will appeal to some elements of the Georgia electorate. The question for Broun, though, is whether those kinds of statements will have much appeal among more mainstream conservative voters in the Atlanta suburbs.

On the Democratic side, Rep. John Barrow opted not to leave his House seat to make a run for the Senate. That has left Democrats to line up behind Michelle Nunn, a political newcomer and the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn.

In the 1st District, five Republicans are so far seeking the House nomination, including State Sen. Buddy Carter and former Kingston staffer David Schwarz, along with former State Sen. Jeff Chapman, businessman Darwin Carter and Bob Johnson, a surgeon and former Army ranger.

In the 10th District, the crowded field so far includes Republican candidates Jody Hice, Brian Slowinski, Mike Collins, Stephen Simpson and State Rep. Donna Sheldon.

In the 11th District, former Republican Rep. Bob Barr, who defected to the Libertarian Party to become its presidential candidate in 2008, has returned to the GOP fold and is making a bid for the seat, joined by State Rep. Edward Lindsey and State Sen. Barry Loudermilk.

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