Endorsements fly in final weeks of Georgia’s Republican Senate primary

Gov. Jan Brewer campaigns on behalf of Senate candidate Karen Handel. (Facebook/Karen Handel)

WASHINGTON, April 29, 2014 — Three weeks before Georgia Republicans select their nominee for U.S. Senate, endorsements are pouring into the Peach State in an attempt to break the deadlock that has characterized the crowded race so far. A failure by any one of the seven candidates to pull ahead has virtually guaranteed a run-off, which will push the primary fight into the middle of summer.

Arguably the biggest endorsement in the race thus far has been Sarah Palin’s backing of former Ga. Secretary of State Karen Handel. The mere presence of Palin at Handel’s side garnered national attention and gave the underdog a much-needed boost in the polls. Rep. Jack Kingston, a front-runner by any standard, has touted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s endorsement of his campaign at every opportunity, including during debates. And Georgia’s conservative firebrand, Rep. Paul Broun, has racked up a slew of endorsements from Tea Party groups such as the Madison Project, all of which he has used to bolster his image as the race’s strongest conservative candidate.

However, small-time endorsements have also played a big-time role in the primary’s day-to-day operations. Candidates have used support from local groups and regional figures to stage camera-ready events across the state, collecting endorsements like Girl Scout merit badges. While the race likely won’t come down to various levels of political support, endorsements matter because they lend a sense of authority to the rhetoric that candidates push every day.

READ ALSO: Republican Senate candidate Art Gardner supports overturning Georgia same-sex marriage ban

Endorsements have mattered most to the candidates with the least amount of name recognition. In the absence of a targeted ad campaign or a sustained presence in the local media, peripheral players have relished the opportunities that endorsements provide.

Derrick Grayson’s campaign saw a burst of attention when American Mothers on a Mission, the fundraising arm of 1 Million Moms Against Gun Control, threw its support behind his campaign. The PAC’s endorsement marks Grayson’s first connection with a major national organization, and represents the steam his campaign has picked up as the pack leaders remain embroiled in a battle to claim a commanding lead.

Although AmMo-PAC pledged public backing of the first-time political candidate on Monday, both parties specified that the arrangement would not include a monetary gift.

“We have fully vetted one another and standing by my pledge, this endorsement does not include a financial donation,” Grayson wrote in a press release. “I continue to stand my ground and refuse to accept corporate or PAC dollars for my campaign.”

Art Gardner, a patent attorney whose centrist views have separated him from the rest of the field in more ways than one, recently boasted an endorsement of his own from former libertarian Senate candidate Allen Buckley.

“Art Gardner is the only candidate in the race who has proposed significant changes to major entitlements, at a time when those entitlements are bearing down on our nation,” Buckley said. “Art’s opponents talk tough, but recommend nothing of substance…I think he clearly is the best candidate.”

For Grayson and Gardner, both of whom have not been listed on the vast majority of polls, these endorsements offer the chance to jump into the media narrative and grab the attention of local pockets of voters. Neither campaign has the funds to get their candidate’s face on TV nor sprayed across stacks of fancy literature, so organic means of making the local press are exponentially more important to them than to the five other candidates jockeying for the top two slots.

For everyone else, the real value in endorsements comes when those announcements shoot candidates into the national spotlight. Conservative radio host Erick Erickson’s decision to back Handel over Broun kicked up a bit of dust and gave the former coveted nation-wide attention.

READ ALSO: Meet Art Gardner: The outlier of Georgia’s Republican Senate primary

“If I could will someone into the Senate, it’d be Congressman Paul Broun,” Erickson hedged on his blog. He explained what many observers of the race fear heading into the May 20th primary: “I think you’d see the establishment pour every penny they have into crushing [Broun]. He’d either limp badly out of the runoff or we’d wind up with someone worse.” Erickson expressed remorse for not feeling free to throw his support behind Broun, claiming that, while his ‘heart is with Paul Broun,’ his ‘head is with Karen Handel.’

Another pundit weighing in on the primary brought the force of the GOP’s most sought-after platform, Fox News, along with his endorsement. Sean Hannity’s public backing of Kingston brought to light the importance of currying favor with the media haut monde.

“I have known Jack Kingston for 20 years,” Hannity said in a statement.  “He’s a solid Ronald Reagan Republican and my choice in the Georgia Senate race.  Jack will join the conservative coalition in the U.S. Senate.”

What usually accompanies the handshake and photo-op element of endorsements—financial support—has not proven a major factor in the race thus far. The groups one would expect to see at bat for their chosen candidates in a volatile primary like Georgia’s have yet to fill the airwaves with their typical mudslinging. American Crossroads, Club for Growth, and the Senate Conservatives fund have all avoided the Peach State primary, while pouring dollars into other Republican Senate races such as those in North Carolina and Alaska.

The types of endorsements rolling in—and, perhaps more importantly, the ones that aren’t—indicate to many that a pair of wildcard victors are unlikely to emerge next month. David Perdue, an esteemed businessman who currently holds a slight lead, and Kingston seem poised to defeat the remaining contenders and duke it out for the chance to appear on November’s ballot. Handel, Broun, and fellow Congressman Phil Gingrey still claim sizable chunks of the electorate in recent polls, but the latter candidate’s position has slipped considerably in the past month and the others will struggle to close the gap on Perdue and Kingston in the next three weeks.

As the clock runs out on one of the most volatile primaries in the country, every photo, flyer, and friend counts. The pace of endorsements will only quicken before the polls open in earnest next month, and the seven Senate hopefuls will undoubtedly throw elbows in the race to gain the affection of Georgia’s biggest political players.

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