GOP Senate Primary voters in the Peach State are weighing whether or not to send a doctor to fight Obamacare. The decision could have consequences, as who controls Georgia’s open seat could help determine who will run the U.S. Senate for the next two years.
Twelve years ago, Dr. Phil Gingrey won a crowded congressional primary, needing a runoff to win. Then he upset a businessman in an open West Georgia district drawn for Democrats in the general election. He’s hoping for a similar result in the 2014 election for the U.S. Senate Primary.
“We’re getting down to the first hurdle,” Rep. Gingrey said of the state’s May 20 primary to an audience in LaGrange, Georgia at a small meet and greet that I attended at C’sons Restaurant. “We’re knocking on doors, getting on the phone, sending out mailings, and doing television ads, which are pretty expensive. It’s one of the most expensive television markets. A 30 second ad running nine times a day for ten days in Atlanta costs $300,000.”
Gingrey was asked whether he preferred being a doctor or a politician. “When you’re a doctor, you’re a doctor for life. I loved serving patients, but we need folks in with medical experience in Congress. There are a few in the House, but only three in the Senate. One’s retiring and another is focusing on a presidential run.” Gingrey went on to add that there’s another Georgia Doctor running for the Senate: Rep. Paul Broun, from an Athens area district.
The Congressman, now representing an Atlanta area district, touted his experience. A follow-up question asked how it would help. “I’m a conservative, but I can talk to anyone. You can’t have one sponsor on a bill. You have to build relationships with others to get bills passed.
Of his likely fall opponent, Gingrey said “Georgia’s not purple, but it’s not flaming red. The race against Michele Nunn won’t be a cakewalk.” Nunn, the daughter of respected Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, is expected to win her primary handily without a runoff (getting more than 50 percent of the vote). The same cannot be said of the Republican, where no candidate polls higher than 25 percent.
In a one-on-one interview with me, Rep. Gingrey elaborated on his position on Social Security. “I support President Bush’s idea of being able to set aside some money from your Social Security in personal accounts for investments, not playing the stock market. I’m also looking at the Ryan plan.”
But wouldn’t supporting the unpopular Bush plan or the controversial Ryan plan hurt Gingrey’s chances? “Those on Social Security, or within 10 years of retirement, would be grandfathered into the existing plan,” he told me in the interview. “But we need to do something, or the current system will go broke. FDR even said that Social Security was meant to help, but not be a retirement plan.”
Rep. Gingrey worked the crowd, careful to introduce his wife, who graduated from LaGrange College and told others gathered how much she appreciated her time in West Georgia. Gingrey will need the region, and other areas outside of his new Congressional District, if he is to make it into the top two on primary day, and head to a likely runoff with another Republican. “Campaigning is hard,” Gingrey admitted. “But if you interned at Grady Memorial Hospital, you can do anything.”