The Great Blue Hope: Michelle Nunn Tries The Improbable In Ga. Georgia hasn't elected a Democrat to statewide office for over a decade, but Senate candidate Michelle Nunn is the most viable hope the party's had in a long time.
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The Great Blue Hope: Michelle Nunn Tries The Improbable In Ga.

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The Great Blue Hope: Michelle Nunn Tries The Improbable In Ga.

The Great Blue Hope: Michelle Nunn Tries The Improbable In Ga.

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Both Republicans and Democrats have Georgia on their minds. There are many close contests in the upcoming midterm elections but Georgia is one of the only states where Democrats have a real shot at retaking a Senate seat. NPR's Greg Allen reports that candidate Michelle Nunn is hoping to carry on her father's legacy as a senator and moderate Democrat.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: It's been the reddest of red states for more than a decade but there's a new energy among Georgia Democrats.


ALLEN: A couple of dozen campaign volunteers were out bright and early recently for a breakfast rally at a diner in Atlanta. This is Michelle Nunn's first run for public office but she's far from an unknown. Her father Sam Nunn is a Democratic icon in Georgia, having represented the state in the Senate for more than two decades. Michelle Nunn is a former head of the Points of Light Foundation - a group that promotes volunteerism and which was founded by former President George H. W. Bush. Her First TV ad featured a photo of her with a former Republican president. Like her father, Michelle Nunn positions herself as a moderate Democrat, willing to reach across the aisle to work with Republicans.

MICHELLE NUNN: I hope again to bring a voice that says, we actually need to collaborate and work together to get solutions and it's not all about antagonism and polarization.

ALLEN: It's a message tailored to reach beyond her Democratic base, one that might appeal to independents and moderate Republicans. Nunn says, her campaign is working to build a broad base of support.

NUNN: It includes a spectrum of people who are long-term Democrats and people who are Republicans and have been voting Republican for a long time. I'm hearing from people all the time that they are ready for a change and it really does cross the political spectrum.

ALLEN: With her family connections Nunn has received almost automatic respect and attention. When she decided to run, the Democratic Party got behind her and she faced only token opposition in the primary. On the other side, Republicans fought a bruising primary over the nomination to replace retiring GOP Senator Saxby Chambliss. After two rounds of voting the winner was someone with another familiar political name. David Perdue was at businessman and the cousin of Georgia's former popular governor, Sonny Perdue. In his victory speech after last week's primary, Perdue hit a central campaign theme.


DAVID PERDUE: I respect Michelle Nunn. I respect her work. I respect her family. But with my business career I will prosecute the failed record of the last six years of Barack Obama.

ALLEN: Republicans talk about Obama more than Nunn does herself. Andra Gillespie, an associate professor of political science at Emory University, says that's because Nunn is trying to walk a narrow line.

ANDRA GILLESPIE: Michelle Nunn's challenge is going to have to figure out a way to distance herself enough from the Obama administration that she can appeal to moderate, undecided voters but not do so in a way that she ends up alienating the Democratic establishment such that they don't help her out.

ALLEN: The issue Nunn probably spends the most time discussing is her position on the Affordable Care Act. She says, she wouldn't repeal it but believes Congress should look at it and, quote, "fix the things that aren't working." But she studiously avoided saying whether she would have voted for in the first place. The Nunn campaign is hoping to build on the support President Obama drew two years ago in Georgia when he came within five points of winning without ever campaigning in the state. Republican political consultant Todd Ream wonders how much of that support the moderate Nunn will be able to count on.

TODD REAM: Without a presidential race that brought out some new voters, some folks who had lapsed into inactivity, it's unclear how you get them enthusiastic if you're not willing to go the mat for your president.

ALLEN: But there's something that Republicans and Democrats agree on - Georgia's electorate is changing. With migration and population growth, the number of minority voters is growing and the proportion of white voters is shrinking. Stacey Abrams is the House Minority Leader in Georgia's General Assembly, the first African-American elected to that position.

STACEY ABRAMS: People of color in Georgia tend to vote Democratic. If you're African Americans it's in the high 90's. If you're Latino or Asian it's in the 70's or 80's. Which means that those are voters who are most likely to be Democratic voters if they are talked to, if they are recruited and if they're turned out.

ALLEN: To mobile those potential supporters, Georgia Democrats have been working since January to target and contact voters through phone bank and canvassing operations. But to win, Nunn's campaign will also need at least respectable numbers among white voters. Early strategy memos for the Nunn campaign leaked to the website for the conservative magazine National Review said, the Democrat would likely need to win at least 30 percent of the white vote. As the fall campaign begins, Republicans believe they can dominate the white vote by tying Nunn to Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Nunn, meanwhile, is trying to combine her appeal to new voters with a tradition cited on the Georgia state seal - wisdom, justice and moderation. Greg Allen, NPR News.

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