The Michelle Nunn diet: Grit, but no red meat

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Early Wednesday morning, hours after Republicans had crowned David Perdue as their U.S. Senate nominee, Democrat Michelle Nunn was working the Silver Skillet breakfast crowd on 14th Street in Atlanta.

Journalists were there to feed, too. But Nunn had them on a strict diet. Grit, but no red meat.

She called for more collaboration in Washington. She refused to speak ill of her new GOP foe. “That kind of approach is what people are hungry for, and what I do not think you’re going to hear from David Perdue,” Nunn said.


Okay, maybe not. And that’s what has some Democrats softly murmuring as the general election for U.S. Senate begins in earnest. Climate change in Georgia is about turning up the heat, not turning the other cheek, they say.

Certainly, Republicans don’t think so. Even as he grasped his brass ring on Tuesday night, Perdue announced his intention to tie Nunn as close to President Barack Obama as possible.

But Nunn says not to worry. She’s got this – witness her stellar fund-raising. “We’re ready. We’ve been building our team and our organizational structure and capacities, and I don’t underestimate how tough it will be. I really think we’re steeled for the race ahead,” she said.

This was on Tuesday evening, just before the polls closed. The Silver Skillet was a meal and a GOP nail-biter away. We were at Nunn campaign headquarters, and some 35 volunteers were dialing up voters in the basement beneath us.

Nunn agreed that the volunteer, good-works agency she ran wasn’t a training ground for guerrilla warfare. “I come from a world in which people are looking for the best in folks, and this is a different world. But we’ve had a year to acclimate,” she said.

Her 11-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter have been briefed on the millions of dollars in Super PAC messages that are about to drop on their mother’s head.

“We talk about the importance of the issues and how we can make a difference. They understand that, because they’ve seen me work,” she said. “They come out to service projects. They see this as an extension of that. Hopefully, they’ll also learn lessons in resiliency and the importance of fighting for something that you believe in.

“I’m not joking. We won’t be watching a lot of TV,” Nunn said. “The good thing is, I don’t think there’s a huge amount of political advertising on the Disney Channel.”

Nunn also addressed concerns expressed by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, that neither her campaign nor that of Jason Carter, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, is doing the outreach to African-American voters that Reed – and others – think necessary for November.

“We’re all aligned about the importance of building a broad-based coalition and getting as many people as possible to participate,” Nunn said. “We need their engagement. I think we’re going to see a huge amount of energy put into that. And we’re already doing it.”

Other demographic niches Nunn will rely on include women voters, and older ones who remember her father, former U.S. senator Sam Nunn. Already, we’re seeing a quiet effort to split those two groups. This question has been making its way through GOP-oriented websites: Why has Michelle Nunn not taken the name of her husband, Ron Martin?

Given the precarious state of their demography in Georgia, Republicans can’t ask the question openly – not without ticking off desperately needed young voters. So I did it for them. Nunn said she was well established professionally when she married 13 years ago. “It really, frankly, didn’t occur to me to change my name,” she said.

As you recognize by now, the bulk of our conversation reinforced an important, perhaps unchangeable, characteristic about the 2014 Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. Michelle Nunn is not inclined to speak in soundbites.

It is genetic. Her father is likewise given to carefully worded, sometimes intricate dialogue. It is a good habit when discussing nuclear disarmament, but less valuable in a Twitter-driven campaign.

Michelle Nunn will have many people engaging in the less-pleasant side of the coming conversation on her behalf. On Wednesday afternoon, state Democratic party chairman DuBose Porter described her business-oriented opponent as “someone who has spent his career enriching himself while often times tearing companies and communities apart.”

But Tharon Johnson, a strategist working the Democratic effort in Georgia, said Nunn is perfectly capable of taking up the fight for herself, in succinct and sharp fashion. He implied that, ultimately, she’ll be required to.

“There will be a lot of time for attacks in the future,” Johnson said. “But after nine weeks of infighting on the GOP side, it makes sense for now that she would want Georgians to see her take the high road.”

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About the Author

Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.