civic engagement

Who should Democrats and Independents vote for in the May 20 Republican U.S. Senate Primary?  Before recoiling at the seemingly inappropriate nature of this question, please consider the following.

Michelle Nunn appears to have the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat locked up.  Unless voters want to cast votes in contested races further down the ballot there is little reason to participate in the Democratic primary beyond the public display of civic virtue.


In contrast to the Democratic primary, intense competition for the Republican nomination means that a primary runoff on July 22 is likely.  A bruising fight between Republican candidates might enhance Nunn’s chances of winning the general election.  With the four leading candidates still polling in the teens, possible low voter turnout, and almost a third of likely voters yet to decide, visiting Democrats and Independents could mean a very different primary runoff.  That presents the uncommon opportunity to help one or more of the most ideological extremist candidates make it into the runoff.  Optimally that race would pit one wingnut against another.

Then there is entertainment.  The Republican primary presents a particularly amusing collection of candidates.  Jack Kingston, the Chamber of Commerce candidate, is campaigning against people on welfare.  In an economy that does not generate enough employment, he wants to require them to work in return for benefits.  Phil Gingrey, who plays a doctor in his television ads, is running against Obamacare.  Karen Handel, who has been endorsed by Sarah Palin and Jan Brewer, is running against the male candidates in the primary.  She does not seem especially interested in the empowerment or rights of women generally, perhaps on the assumption that the election of a woman is all that’s needed or wanted.

The most amusing of all is Paul Broun.  Anti-immigrant xenophobia, public statements like one that described evolution and the big bang theory as “lies straight out of the pits of hell,” the choice of the NSDAP flag colors — red, black and white — for his campaign signs, and a German surname, is the formula for einen ultrakonservativen Kandidat.

Finally, there is pedagogy.  Much of the American electorate has yet to realize that the GOP is increasingly fissured by factions.  Libertarians and religious conservatives hold one another in contempt while the Chamber of Commerce “wealth creators” and the Tea Party populists distrust one another.  Give them credit: Contempt and distrust are the appropriate reactions.  By helping one of the most ideologically extreme candidates in the Republican runoff, Democrats and Independents can expose those divisions.  That’s important in a state like Georgia where the Republican Party has achieved near hegemony.

There is more to what should be understood as pedagogically motivated civic engagement.  Georgia’s majority runoff electoral system and absurdly burdensome legal barriers to getting a third party candidate on the ballot for most races mean that voting in the other party’s primary is the only practical way to register a protest vote.

Who then should Democrats and Independents choose on November 20?  The answer has to be Paul Broun.  Not only is he the most absurd of the cohort but he is polling among the top four.  Any possible runoff pairing that includes Broun would be fun and educational for the whole electorate.  Democrats and Independents almost owe it to their fellow Georgians to step up and do the wrong thing in this case.

Photo licensed from MorgueFile.
John Hickman

John Hickman

John Hickman is Professor of Political Science in the Department of Government and International Studies at Berry College in Rome, Georgia, where he teaches courses on war crimes, comparative politics, and research methods. He holds both a PH.D. in political science from the University of Iowa and a J.D. from Washington University, St. Louis. Hickman is the author of the 2013 Florida University Press book Selling Guantanamo.