By CHRISTINA A. CASSIDY and BILL BARROW, Associated Press
Two veteran congressmen lead the early money race in the hotly contested Republican U.S. Senate primary, but it’s Savannah Rep. Jack Kingston who has set the pace despite coming from outside the big money orbit of metropolitan Atlanta.
Kingston raised more than $807,000 during the second quarter of 2014, according to new disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission. It’s the second consecutive fundraising period that Kingston cleared the $800,000 mark. Rep. Phil Gingrey of Marietta, meanwhile, pulled in $415,000, outpacing the $329,000 haul he reported in the first quarter.
Kingston has pulled virtually even with Gingrey. He reported a $2.53 million balance as of June 30. Gingrey reported having $2.56 million.
Gingrey also outspent Kingston and his other two opponents. If that continues alongside the early fundraising trends, Kingston could establish a long-term financial advantage. But for now the totals leave Kingston and Gingrey with steep leads over U.S. Rep. Paul Broun and former Secretary of State Karen Handel.
Broun showed newfound momentum with $388,000 in second-quarter contributions. But he began the quarter well behind his colleagues and reported having just more than $400,000 at the end of June. All three men transferred their previous House campaign balances into their Senate accounts.
Handel raised $154,000 in the six weeks after she formally declared her candidacy. She reported an ending balance of $150,000.
The challenge for each of the congressmen is to build a statewide brand. Handel, despite her late start, is the only candidate who has already run a statewide race, narrowly missing out on the governor’s office in 2010 when she lost a Republican runoff to eventual winner Nathan Deal.
Eric Tanenblatt, a longtime Georgia GOP strategist who served as co-finance chair of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, noted that some corporate donors and party loyalists are contributing to multiple candidates in the early months before the race takes shape.
The eventual winner will be favored to hold the seat for Republicans, but strategists from both parties are watching the primary dynamic closely as Broun, an outspoken tea party favorite, has already pulled the field to the right. Some Republicans fear and many Democrats hope that a contentious primary — particularly if Broun emerges as the nominee — could give Democrats an opening to attract moderate voters and pull an upset. Nationally, Republicans can’t afford to lose Georgia as they try to gain a net of six seats to reclaim control of the Senate during the last two years of Democratic President Barack Obama’s term.
Democrats don’t yet have a declared candidate, but party insiders expect Atlanta philanthropy executive Michelle Nunn to announce soon whether she’ll run. Nunn’s father once represented Georgia in the Senate as a Democrat.
Elected in 1992, Kingston is the longest-serving Republican in Georgia’s congressional delegation. But his district puts him well outside the population center of Atlanta. He has spent considerable time in the metropolitan area meeting with potential donors and supporters.
Tanenblatt said Kingston has little choice. “He’s going to need more resources than some of the others because he’s not known in metro Atlanta, which is where a big part of the vote is,” Tanenblatt said.
Gingrey, who first won his seat in 2002, has a strong base of support in the neighborhoods that make up his district in the suburbs north of Atlanta. An obstetrician, Gingrey has historically drawn support from business leaders, medical providers and other professionals. But in a closely contested primary, he must reach out to small-town and rural Georgia voters. Aides say he has already launched an aggressive travel schedule, part of what explains his early spending totals. His campaign spokesman, John Porter, said 92 percent of Gingrey’s donors live in Georgia and that the campaign will use that to build grassroots support.
Broun, who won a 2007 special election, has garnered a national reputation for outspoken commentary — the physician called evolutionary biology “lies from the pit of hell” — and bucking party leadership on fiscal and even social concerns, usually arguing that the GOP leadership doesn’t go far enough.
Broun had hoped a recent endorsement from Congressman Ron Paul would translate into national fundraising appeal. Similar congressional figures like Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota successfully built national donor networks, even if it doesn’t always transfer into political victories.
In the 2010 governor’s race, Handel raised the least among the four major GOP candidates. There’s an open question of whether she can tap into sources outside of Georgia after her public battle with Planned Parenthood during her tenure as an executive at Susan G. Komen for the Cure. In the last year, Handel wrote a book and traveled the country, talking with various Right to Life groups about the public outcry over the breast cancer charity’s decision to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood, whose services for women include abortion.
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