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March 21, 2014 11:15 AM Crazy Versus Money

By Ed Kilgore

I hope readers don’t think I’m devoting too much space to the race for Saxby Chambliss’ seat in the U.S. Senate. But it’s catnip to me, confirming my theory that the race is a sort of petri dish for the GOP and the conservative movement, and it’s getting a lot of national attention because Georgia represents one of two states where Republicans could lose a seat, offsetting probable gains elsewhere.

Polling of primaries is notoriously iffy, but interestingly, the last two polls of GA GOP SEN show very different trajectories for the contest. A PPP survey for Better Georgia released on March 10 had wild man Rep. Paul Broun leaping to a big lead with 27% of the vote, with the slightly less wacky conservative Rep. Phil Gingrey running second at 14%. But now a new Survey USA poll for an Atlanta television station has self-funding first-time candidate David Perdue (cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue and Dollar General CEO) with a big lead at 29%, and fundraising champ Rep. Jack Kingston a strong second at 19%. SUSA has Gingrey and Broun running third and fourth at 12% and 11%.

About the only thing the two polls agree on is that former Secretary of State (and 2010 gubernatorial runoff loser) Karen Handel is trailing the pack, running fifth in both surveys. Personally, I think Handel would be the strongest general election candidate against Democrat Michelle Nunn, but nobody in the GOP is asking me for advice.

So to simplify matters, you’ve got one poll showing craziness as the big X factor, and another suggesting that money talks. The candidates with the most money, however, are using it to suggest they’re wingnuts, too. A case in point is Jack Kingston, whose status as a congressional appropriator helped him haul in the most contributions of any candidate, but which he is spending on ads touting him as a tight-fisted fiscal hawk (his latest ad focuses on two really dumb optics for fiscal probity, Kingston’s refusal to use part of his staff expense allocation, and his ownership of a really old station wagon). Perdue is doing the classic “conservative outsider ready to take on Big Government” number.

I don’t know which of the polls is more accurate, but I’m guessing that whatever money or “earned media” Broun and Gingrey can throw into the race between now and May 20 will be devoted to labeling Perdue and Kingston as RINOs who are seeking to deceive the folks. For aficianados of conservative extremism, it would be a real shame if neither of these wiggy gents makes the runoff.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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