Democrat Michelle Nunn is running a close race against Republican David Perdue for Georgia’s open U.S. Senate seat.
Perdue, the cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, has made no bones that he doesn’t think the election is between him and Nunn, the daughter of longtime U.S. Senator Sam Nunn.
In the race that could determine which party controls the Senate, Perdue has said that his real opponent is Barack Obama, a Democratic president with low approval ratings in Georgia.
Obama "handpicked her. He funded her. He supports her," Perdue said in an Oct. 7 debate in Perry. "You will not bite the hand that feeds you."
Perdue continued the theme in an Oct. 26 debate in Atlanta. When asked to pose a question to Nunn, he said, "Isn’t a vote for you just a vote for Barack Obama?"
Implicit in Perdue’s effort to link Nunn with Obama is the often repeated charge that Nunn will be a rubber stamp for the president if she is elected.
But Nunn has cited several areas where she disagrees with the president and reiterated that she will be a problem-solver and pragmatist in the Senate.
"No one is feeding me by hand, David. I’ve spent maybe 45 minutes out of my entire life with President Obama," she said at the debate. "I do not agree with the president as some sort of rubber stamp."
The back-and-forth could be political rhetoric. But with so much on the line nationally, PolitiFact Georgia wondered: did the president hand-pick Nunn with the expectation she would blindly support his policies?
We began by asking the Perdue campaign for the basis for its claim. Spokesman Derrick Dickey cited not the president but two potential proxies: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the group Organizing for Action, or OFA.
Reid did single out Nunn as "really good" in a July 2013 speech to OFA, Obama’s political arm. "The president is only as strong as his Congress," Reid said. "I talked with Michelle Nunn today. I think there will be an important announcement out of Georgia tomorrow."
Nunn declared her candidacy on July 22, 2013. She consulted with the Democratic Senatorial Senate Campaign Committee before throwing her name into the ring, according to published reports.
But she and her father have both said in interviews that Reid actually asked her not to run for the seat.
Congressman John Barrow, a conservative Democrat running for re-election in the 12th District, was mentioned as a possible candidate instead for the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss.
The DSCC did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Barrow spokesman Richard Carbo said the congressman had reviewed requests for a Senate run but in May 2013 announced he would stick with his initial House re-election plans.
"He ultimately decided that he could continue to be an asset to the people in the 12th District and the entire state in the House of Representatives," Carbo said.
A DSCC poll, released by the political website Politico.com a day after Barrow’s announcement, lends credibility to Nunn being the preferred candidate. The poll shows Nunn would fare better than Barrow against the then-presumptive GOP nominee, U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston.
Dickey also notes that OFA committed to directing donors and money to Nunn’s campaign – the first such political effort for the group meant to be non-partisan.
Since then, the president has told an Atlanta radio station that a Nunn victory in the race "means that Democrats keep control of the Senate" and his wife, Michelle Obama, headlined a fund-raiser for Nunn.
"There is no doubt that Barack Obama and his allies picked Michelle Nunn to be the Democrat nominee and attempted to influence the outcome of the primary election on her behalf," Dickey said.
Such ties may give Perdue an opening – but they don’t translate into Nunn walking in lockstep with Obama, or even the national Democratic Party.
Nunn, for instance, has long bucked her party in calling for immediate action to build the Keystone Pipeline. Notably, that puts Nunn in the corner of only one prominent Democrat – fellow Southerner Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.
She has pushed for reversing cuts to military spending, notably opposing Obama’s proposed cut to the A-10 Warthogs. She also criticized Obama for delaying funding and authorization to deepen the Port of Savannah.
"Perdue's claim is ludicrous," Nunn spokesman Nathan Click said. "The fact is that since the beginning of this race, Michelle has been very clear that she is running to fight for Georgians and bring Georgia values on Washington -- not kowtow to party leaders."
To that end, being the preferred candidate means only adding to the number of senators with a D after their name, not sharing all ideology, said Kerwin Swint, the director of the political science department at Kennesaw State University.
Nunn has been clear she does support some of the party’s policies. She is for raising the minimum wage and has given support to Obamacare, with some changes.
But it’s unlikely she could be a rubber stamp, or would even want to be, given the state’s politics, Swint said.
"In a state like Georgia, you’d expect her to take a more conservative stance," Swint said. "She’s a moderate Democrat in a Southern state. Democrats would welcome her with open arms, knowing full well she’s going to have serious disagreements with them."
So, where does that leave us with Perdue’s claim? There is strong evidence that Democratic leaders – if not the president himself – made it clear that they preferred Nunn as the party’s nominee in Georgia.
But Nunn’s stated opposition to some of Obama’s key policies supports the idea that she would not be a rubber stamp for the president.
Perdue has a point about Nunn’s selection by top Democrats. But it needs a lot of additional information to be fully understood.
We rate the claim Half True.
Harry Reid, statement to Organizing for Action, July 2013
The Hill, "Michelle Nunn actively preparing for Senate campaign in Georgia," May 24, 2013
Politico.com, "Dem poll: Michelle Nunn stronger than John Barrow," May 8, 2013
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Political Insider blog, "Sam Nunn condemns ‘shameful’ attack on daughter, says Harry Reid wanted her out of Senate race," Oct. 2, 2014
Politico.com, "Organizing for Action pitches help for Democrats," Aug. 6, 2014
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Political Insider blog, "Lack of Port of Savannah funding moves Georgia from bipartisanship to bi-paranoia," March 5, 2014
The Atlanta Journal Constitution Political Insider blog,"Barack Obama: ‘If Michelle Nunn wins, that means … we can keep on doing some good work," Oct. 23, 2014
Albany Herald,"Michelle Nunn, Sam Nunn visit Albany as part of campaign tour," Aug. 7, 2014
Debate, Georgia’s U.S. Senate candidates, Oct. 7, 2014
Debate, Georgia’s U.S. Senate candidates, Oct. 26, 2014
Interview with Kerwin Swint, professor and chairman, Department of Political Science & International Affairs, Kennesaw State University, Oct. 28, 2014
Email interview with Richard Carbo, spokesman for Democratic Congressional candidate John Barrow, Oct. 30, 2014
Email Interview with Derrick Dickey, spokesman for Republican U.S. Senate Candidate David Perdue, Oct. 27, 2014
Email Interview with Nathan Click, spokesman for Democratic U.S. Senate Candidate Michelle Nunn, Oct. 27, 2014
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