Mention the name “Paul Broun” in media circles in Washington, D.C. or New York, and you’ll likely get half a laugh and a one word response: crazy. Once a sitting congressman has declared embryology and evolution to be “lies straight from the pit of Hell,” offered an AR-15 rifle as a sweepstakes giveaway for campaign supporters, labeled President Obama a Marxist and called for the president’s impeachment, it’s hard to ignore the crazy tag in the Acela corridor.
But to write off Paul Broun as a factor in the race to fill Georgia’s open Senate seat is to misunderstand both the doctor-turned-congressman and the state he is trying to represent.
While Georgia’s changing demographics may be sending the state toward more purple-than-red territory eventually, it remains decidedly Republican (with no statewide Democratic officials), deeply religious, and dominated by so many Tea Party groups that candidates often complain they can’t keep track of them all.
Enter U.S. Senate candidate Dr. Paul Broun, who also has deep ties to Tea Party groups and a voting record so conservative that the Club for Growth named him its No. 1 Defender of Freedom in all of Congress. Not to mention his religious conviction as a strong born-again Christian saw him declaring on the floor of the House that “the Holy Bible is true, it is literal, and it is God’s direction for all of us.” (See “pit of Hell” above for Broun’s biblical interpretation of evolution.)
With three months left to go until the state’s Republican primary, Broun (pronounced “Brown”) is badly underfunded, yet still sitting near (but not at the top) of several polls that show none of the candidates in the crowded Republican field breaking away from the pack.
A poll of likely GOP primary voters released Tuesday shows Rep. Phil Gingrey leading with 19 percent support. Former secretary of state Karen Handel ranks second with 14 percent, while Broun places third with 13 percent. The remaining candidates, including Rep. Jack Kingston, trail behind for now.
But that same poll, which was commissioned by Citizens United’s PAC and conducted by the Polling Company, also reveals important details about who the GOP primary voters are likely to be in May: 82 percent self-identify as conservative, with 48 percent calling themselves “very conservative.” Of all of the candidates, Broun was picked as “the most conservative candidate in the race.” And a significant majority, 62 percent, said they want the next Senator from Georgia “to work closely with Sen. Ted Cruz.”
If an electorate is looking for a Ted Cruz compadre, it wouldn’t have to look much further than Broun, who sponsored the bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act; declares “no room for compromise” on the Second Amendment; and boasts a Washington office so full of taxidermy he shot himself that it’s been called a “cross between a zoo and a pet cemetery.”
With Georgia conservatives on the hunt for one of their own, Republican Party insiders are increasingly worried that the outspoken Broun could run a competitive race against the better funded, more business friendly candidates like Rep. Jack Kingston or businessman David Perdue. If Broun were to win, Republicans worry he’d lose to likely Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn, whose father, Sam Nunn, represented Georgia in the Senate for 24 years.
Even if Broun doesn’t win the primary, party strategists worry he’s hurting Republicans in the process. “The concern is that he could pull the whole field to the right,” said a long-time Republican fundraiser.
That worry came to fruition Monday when Broun, days after declaring he would vote to impeach the President, issued a statement taking the other candidates to task for not doing the same. “What I don’t understand, is how a candidate can claim to be a proven conservative, and yet if such a resolution was brought up for a vote, they would oppose it,” he said. Last year, Broun hammered Kingston for saying he wanted to fix Obamacare, but stopped short of calling for its repeal.
Debbie Dooley, an original Tea Party founder based in Georgia who is not endorsing a Senate candidate, rejects the doomsday scenarios that Washington Republicans are painting of Broun’s chances in a general election.
“That’s an external misreading of the state,” Dooley said. “For over a year, Karl Rove and the Republican establishment told us that Mitt Romney would win the presidency, that he was the only one who could beat Barack Obama, and look how that turned out.”
Dooley says Tea Partiers in the state appear to be coalescing around two candidates: Karen Handel and Paul Broun, with most of the support going to Broun. Dooley describes Broun as “very friendly, not at all elitist” and very, very conservative.
“If he were the nominee I think he would definitely be elected. I think they would all be elected. The only candidate who would be unacceptable is Michelle Nunn,” Dooley said.
Dooley added that the two most animating issues for the Tea Party activists this year are the Affordable Care Act and any talk of immigration reform. “People are outraged over it,” Dooley said, citing House Republicans’ recent discussions about revisiting immigration this year. “It’s like a zombie that keeps getting resurrected.” On both of those issues, Broun is unapologetic— no to both.
While Republicans sort out their nominees, Dr. Merle Black, a longtime political scientist at Emory University, says Democrats are clear on how they’d like the GOP primary to go.
“Paul Broun is the person they’d like to run against,” Black says. “They think he’s very beatable.”
Black added that Democrats have their own issues to worry about in November, namely President Obama’s relative unpopularity in the state. “The burden is on the Democrats,” he said.
But even then, Black was skeptical of Broun’s chances of winning statewide in a general election.
“I think it would be very hard for him,” Black said. “I would never say never, but he’s the closest thing to never that there is.”