Catalina Camia, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON -- Democrat Michelle Nunn's decision to follow in her father's footsteps in Georgia opens a new front in the battle for control of the Senate in the 2014 elections.
Nunn, CEO of a volunteer service organization, is expected to file her paperwork Tuesday to run for the seat of retiring Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss. The political novice declared her long-awaited candidacy on Monday in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
This is the same Senate seat that her father, Sam Nunn, held from 1972 to 1997 as a centrist Democrat who appealed to GOP voters. The race to succeed Chambliss has already attracted three congressmen and a former Georgia secretary of State on the Republican side.
Democrats currently have a 54-46 voting advantage in the Senate and Republicans are already eyeing possible pickups in West Virginia, South Dakota and Montana, where the Democratic incumbents are not seeking re-election next year.
"Michelle Nunn makes this race competitive," said Merle Black, a political scientist at Emory University. "She has no experience but she has a great name. She clearly will be able to unify the Georgia Democratic Party and she'll be able to raise a tremendous amount of money."
Branko Radulovacki, an Atlanta physician, is also running for the Democratic nomination but party stalwarts are expected to line up behind Nunn.
Nunn posted on Twitter that she wants to get things working in the Senate. Her supporters point to her work as CEO of Points of Light, an organization founded by former President George H.W. Bush, as an example of how she can work across party lines.
"I'm running for Senate because Washington is letting GA and our nation down," Nunn said in her tweet. "We need leaders who know their job is to work together and get things done."
No Democrat currently holds a statewide elected office in Georgia and Sam Nunn was last on the ballot in 1990. President Obama lost to Mitt Romney last year in Southern states such as Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, but had his best showing among them in Georgia, where he garnered 45%.
A divisive Republican primary could help the Democrats. Black noted that GOP Reps. Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey could have a tougher time raising money for a competitive general election race than Rep. Jack Kingston or former secretary of State Karen Handel, who forced a GOP runoff for governor in 2010. Broun and Gingrey have attracted attention in the past for some of their controversial comments about evolution and rape, respectively.
"The Republican primary has increasingly become a right-wing circus that will produce a flawed candidate like Todd Akin," said Justin Barasky, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Akin is the Senate GOP nominee in Missouri who lost a race last year in large part due because of his comments about "legitimate rape."
Barasky said Nunn's background as a chief executive and her career devoted to service will appeal to voters across party lines, as well has her long history working with the Bush family.
Black said Nunn and the Democratic Party will have to be ready for Republican charges that she is "a liberal Obama-Pelosi Democrat," a charge that stuck in the special election for Congress earlier this year against Elizabeth Colbert Busch in South Carolina. Like Nunn, Colbert Busch had a famous name - her brother is comedian Stephen Colbert - but was largely unknown by voters. Republican Mark Sanford won the election.
The Georgia Republican Party welcomed Nunn to the race on Tuesday with a news release that tied her to President Obama, calling him "your friend" in an open letter to the new Democratic candidate.
"Even though the general election is more than a year away, you can rest assure that the Georgia Republican Party will make your campaign for the United States Senate our priority, and we will work daily to remind Georgia voters how out-of-touch you and the Democratic Party are with their values and convictions," the Georgia GOP said.
Sen. Sam Nunn was born in Perry and first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972 and retired in 1997.