This story has been corrected from an earlier version, which incorrectly identified some political ties in Michelle Nunn's family.
Plan to hear more about U.S. Senate candidates’ Michelle Nunn and David Perdue’s ties to Middle Georgia over the next three months.
Both Nunn, a Democrat, and Perdue, a Republican, were born in Macon hospitals and lived for a time in Houston County. Those connections could influence some voters, said Kerwin Swint, chairman of political science and international affairs at Kennesaw State University.
“Their families are from there, and their ties are there,” he said. “A lot of times you get someone from Atlanta and someone from another part of the state.”
But those ties can only stretch back so far. Both candidates have lived elsewhere for decades.
“There’s only so much of a local angle for these two candidates,” Swint said. “It’s going to be a test to see who the area supports, because of allegiances to the families and to the two parties.”
Such family connections may loom large, said Charles Bullock, the Richard B. Russell Professor of political science at the University of Georgia.
In the past week, Nunn toured the state with her father, former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, focused on some of the military bases her father helped oversee from his seat on the Senate Armed Forces Committee. Perdue has been working closely with his cousin, former Gov. Sonny Perdue, who is the honorary chairman of his campaign.
“The Nunn name still resonates quite strongly with older voters,” Bullock said, but the iconic father is more unknown to younger generations who have moved to Georgia from elsewhere. The Perdue name also carries some weight and perhaps even confusion.
“My hunch is we probable have some voters who went to the poll and said, ‘I didn’t know Sonny’s real name was David,’” Bullock said.
Home on the farm
In comments this week, both Perdue and Nunn brought up their family farms.
Perdue told The Telegraph the people he grew up with have worked hard for him and give him a “tremendous home court advantage” in the race.
“Growing up in Houston County as the son of two public school teachers, I got the real Middle Georgia values there. I learned about hard work on the family farm and living within our means. The values I learned there stuck with me as I embarked on a business career that took me across the country and around the world. Those are the same values I want to take to Washington,” Perdue said.
Nunn also said she has “deep roots” in the midstate.
She described herself as a ninth-generation Georgian with 25 years of service in the state. She said part of a recent campaign ad was filmed on the Nunn farm in Perry, which is in its third generation.
Michelle Nunn's grandfather was mayor of Perry. Before he was elected to the U.S. Senate, her father served in the state House of Representatives.
Perdue has other locally famous relatives besides Sonny, particularly his father David, who became superintendent of the Houston County schools and has an elementary school named after him.
Naturally, the candidates have fired shots at each other.
Asked about the potential for a midstate-based race in February, Perdue told The Telegraph he loved Nunn’s family but that Nunn hasn’t had the career to prepare her for the job.
He used her job experience to tie her to President Barack Obama: “Michelle’s had a nice career. We’ve hired one community organizer already. How’s that working out for us?”
Speaking after a meeting with the 21st Century Partnership, Nunn this week criticized Perdue for dismissing her suggestion that both of them should reject money from outside the state. “It’s a part of what’s wrong with politics in Washington,” she said.
Big money buys lots of ads
The University of Georgia’s Bullock said the Nunn-Perdue U.S. Senate race is going to be a “huge national event.” Democrats see this as their best chance to pick up a seat when outgoing Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss retires. Democrats also are fighting to hold on to some of their seats and keep a majority in the Senate. If the Democrats pick up a Georgia seat, that’s one fewer they have to defend elsewhere, he noted.
“We’re going to be covered up with political advertising on this come October, and starting even earlier,” he said.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee reportedly already is buying $2.5 million worth of advertising.
Kennesaw State’s Swint thinks plenty more money will flood into Georgia.
“We’re going to see a lot of national money being contributed to the campaigns, but also outside spending -- independent groups -- are going to wade in very heavily. TV, radio, direct mail. Online, I would assume, too,” Swint said.
He sees Georgia as an important battleground.
For Republicans, “it’s crucial if they want to take over the U.S. Senate. They’ve got to hold on here. ... Seems like Democrats think this is the best opportunity for a pickup of a Republican seat,” Swint said.
Both candidates have to work on overcoming some problems and moving forward. Nunn has already been attacked over leaked campaign advice, such as a memo recommending she adopt “rural-oriented imagery” to “combat the notion that she is an Atlanta-based candidate uninterested in, or unfamiliar with, the rural parts of the state.”
Perdue, whose jobs have taken him out of the country, is being attacked over his business record. He’s already trying to win the support of people who supported the other Republican candidates, whom he portrayed in a television commercial as crying babies.
Bullock said Perdue should have an easy time refilling his campaign coffers, but his biggest challenge will be in collecting support from Republicans who backed other candidates. They might not vote for Nunn. But if they stay away from the polls in November, they’ll hurt Perdue just the same, he said.
Nunn, who got three-quarters of the vote against three other Democrats in a primary, will have to articulate her views and rebuff attacks based on the campaign memo, he said.
Those back-and-forth attacks will try to get -- and to keep -- the attention of potential voters in a race with national importance.