Michelle Nunn touts family ties

Michelle Nunn’s bid to become Georgia’s first Democratic senator in nearly a decade could succeed or fail depending on her ability to leverage her more famous father’s political connections and reputation. 

Former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), who represented the state from 1972 through 1997, can open up doors for his daughter in the fundraising world, strategists say. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Equally as important, the four-term senator could help his daughter establish credibility as a centrist in voters’ minds.

“A lot of people remember and respect Sen. Nunn, and his brand is awfully important,” said Gordon Giffin, who was Nunn’s longtime Senate chief counsel and who is serving now as Michelle Nunn’s campaign chairman. 

“People will see a lot of him in her, and the things they respected in him, they’ll also respect in her,” Giffin added. “Some people may give her the benefit of the doubt because of the fact that they respected her father’s approach.”

Michelle Nunn played up her family ties on Tuesday at her campaign launch. 

“My father was an independent-minded statesman who accomplished an enormous amount by working with others to solve problems and keep our country safe,” she said.  “He’s someone I continue to learn from every day.”

Those close to the Nunns believe the former senator will be active in his daughter’s    race, though Giffin pointed out that it’s very much her campaign.

Democrats say the campaign will seek to balance the older voices from Sam Nunn’s circle with younger Democratic activists.

In particular, Michelle Nunn’s allies point to her philanthropic work as CEO of Points of Light, a global nonprofit promoting volunteer service. 

She also founded Hands On Atlanta, a group that promotes volunteerism.

“While her father’s friends and supporters and former staff will be supportive of her, she brings an equal or greater set of relationships throughout Georgia and throughout the country,” Giffin said. 

“There’s going to be a symmetry of historic players and brand new ones that will bring a dynamism to this.”

Nunn is running for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who is retiring. 

She became the Democrats’ preferred candidate following Rep. John Barrow’s (D-Ga.) decision in May not to run. 

Four Republicans are currently running in the GOP primary: Reps. Jack Kingston, Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey and former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel. 

Nunn is the second prominent political daughter to launch a Senate campaign in recent days. 

Liz Cheney (R), the daughter of former Vice President Cheney, announced last week she is challenging incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi (R) in Wyoming. 

Republicans dispute that Sam Nunn has any coattails for his daughter in 2014. 

The senior Nunn, known best for his centrist record and work against nuclear proliferation, remains a fixture in Atlanta but hasn’t held office for nearly two decades. 

“The Nunn legacy in Georgia is nonexistent,” said Brad Dayspring, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. 

“They have a green candidate with a name that had recognition 20 years ago. The state has changed. “

Following Nunn’s announcement, Dayspring cast her as a “liberal in the mold” of President Obama and Democratic congressional leaders Sen. Harry Reid (Nev.) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.). 

“It takes more than just family ties to get elected to the Senate, and we look forward to a robust debate about the Obama/Nunn agenda and the ramifications that it has on middle-class families and women in Georgia,” he continued.

One major difference between Nunn and her father: When he pulled off a surprise win in his first Senate race in 1972, he’d already spent years in the statehouse cutting his teeth on policy. 

While Michelle Nunn’s background running two large nonprofits will help her, she has never weighed in on policy. And she’s never before run for office. 

Her inexperience may have shown when she attended a fundraising event Obama held for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee earlier this summer, giving Republicans a chance to tie her to the president in the Republican-leaning state.

“The Nunn name means something here in Georgia, but Michelle is completely unknown and untested. She’s never held public office,” said Emory University professor Merle Black. 

“She’s never been involved in politics. She’s run a nonprofit and was very good at that, but she’s never been in partisan politics.”

Nunn sought out of the gate to find some distance between herself and national Democrats. 

She has offered measured criticism of ObamaCare, though she supports changing rather than repealing the law. And while she personally supports gay marriage, Nunn believes the decision on whether it should be legal should be made by individual states. 

Nunn has also emphasized the importance of trimming the national deficit, an issue more often championed by Republicans.

Her campaign website doesn’t mention her political party.

Tharon Johnson, a top Georgia Democratic strategist, said Sam Nunn’s name would boost her campaign. 

But he said Michelle Nunn must show voters why she should be elected on her own merits.

“She needs to stand on her own — she has to tell people about her 20-plus years of public service, her work at Points of Light,” he said. 

“She has to define herself immediately, which I think they’re planning to do.”