Kingston Vows Not To Be Outflanked On The Right: Exhibit A

Jack Kingston’s announcement that he’ll be seeking the nomination for U.S. Senate from Georgia came with the following statement to the AJC’s Greg Bluestein:

“(I) will yield no ground to any of my opponents as to who is the most conservative.”

In Republican circles these days, “conservative” is defined in the eye of the beholder.  And when those beholders go to the ballot box, there are many trip wires within conservative litmus tests.  One of the most prominent that will be on display in the months leading up to next July’s primary – or at least during the formative stages of this campaign when a pecking order among candidates is established – will be immigration reform.  Kingston stakes out his “conservative” position via The New York Times:

“There was a lot of Washington talk about the gun bill’s possibilities, but I never saw that reflected in the people at home,” said Representative Jack Kingston, Republican of Georgia, who has served since 1993. “Now there is all this buzz about the immigration reform, and that is not reflected, either.”

And with that statement, we now see the problem that John Boehner will be dealing with in the House over the next year or so.  Republicans are keenly aware that they are elected in primaries.  And Republican primary voters are driven by the activists.  The activists are getting more loud, and less tolerant for anything that can be seen as not conservative.  And anyone who attempts to explain reason, strategic vision, or the future pool of voters that will make up the party (and whether that is a sufficient number to ever achieve 50%) are quickly dismissed as establishment.

Candidates too often cede the opportunity to lead or to educate, and for unfortunate but good reason.  In a world where primary voters seek to be affirmed, candidates follow the lead of what they expect their voters want to hear.  It’s risky, time consuming, and very expensive to change the narrative.  It’s much easier to mirror where a candidate feels the people already are.

Three of Georgia’s congressmen thus far have entered the U.S. Senate race.  Each will likely want to prove himself “the most conservative” in the race.

John Boehner will likely not be able to count on these three votes on controversial issues between now and next July.



  1. Three Jack says:

    Kingston can’t help but be outflanked to the right, so his best chance will be to go libertarian. We had a decent discussion on this topic a few months ago — — read thru a few of those comments to see how ‘conservatives’ like Debbie Dooley scrutinize a candidate. As I posted then in reply to one of Debbie’s attacks on Kingston:

    But I just can’t stop without first addressing this statement from your (Debbie Dooley) original post as it relates to Kingston — “Everyone said Reagan was too extreme to be President and he would get us in a nuuclear war but he won and was a great president.”….who raised taxes multiple times, increased the national debt considerably and provided amnesty to over 3M illegal aliens. You would be the first to oppose Reagan’s candidacy based on your incredibly strict standard being applied to people like Jack Kingston. Not sure how you rationalize this double standard in your own mind, but you obviously have found a way.

  2. Republican Congressmen are essentially in the same position as store managers at Blockbuster 5 years ago. As a company, Blockbuster knew it needed to change to compete in the future, and that future probably didn’t include the stores. But if you’re a store manager, your bread and butter is fighting that change because that’s the only chance you’ve got.

    The Republican party nationally knows it needs to change to win governing majorities, but that message doesn’t jibe with the current power stakeholders. Going to be a fun primary.

    • Doug Deal says:

      Chris may be right, only it is not as drastic as the dire straights Blockbuster was in. The Republicans still control many mroe government than the Democrats, and they could likely limp along and be competitve for another generation, but unless something changes, the dominance they have showed since 1994 in Congress will wane.

      People want the government out of their business. The Republicans are the natural party for that. Even when the Democrats say they are protecting rights, it is with a big government program that makes sure everyone enjoys their rights the same way. This is easily opposed and the financial crisis and crushing debt with no visible end has finally made it a priority in the minds of the voters.

      As long as Republicans stay the two plank party of anti-abortion, anti-gay whatever and damn small government principles, when people are screaming their lungs out about taxes, the economy and ridiculous regulation, the people they need to win will stay away from the polls.

      When every election is a “base election” it means you are losing the independents and no party can win without them, unless both parties equally ignore them. Luckily for the GOP, the Dems have not been much better.

      • True – although in some places in New England it is pretty dire, granted there are large swaths of the South where things are dire for Dems, it’s just that New England + California + other Dem areas add up to more than the South now, and more areas of the country that used to quasi-align with the South politically are no longer doing it (think like Ohio).

        The great thing about politics is that any party is really only one transforming election away from rebirth. Look how bad the Democrats prospects were pre-Clinton, and since ’92 we’ve won 4.5/6 Presidential elections thanks to just one good leader. Now I argue that 2010 is the worst thing that could have happened to the Republicans because they need a few crushing losses in a row to pave the way for a Clinton type. Maybe a more charismatic version of Governor Romney could have been that answer, but Governor Romney didn’t make it through the primaries, Candidate Romney did. Either way, you guys need some demoralizing losses for your future.

  3. Tiberius says:

    Charlie, great piece. You nailed it. We in the “activist class” have to remember that we hardcore 5,000 or so do not always resemble and speak for he 700,000 who will show up in this primary.

  4. James says:

    Good article, Charlie. Doug Deal is right — the country is shifting towards increased social liberalism, and “As long as Republicans stay the two plank party of anti-abortion, anti-gay whatever and damn small government principles” their base will continue to erode.

    I, for one, relish this fact. That’s why I sleep soundly at night when a politician is stupid enough to say something like “(I) will yield no ground to any of my opponents as to who is the most conservative,” which is conservative speak for “gay-bait gay-bait gay-bait abortion abortion abortion gay-bait guns guns.” Good luck getting anything done, guys.

  5. northside101 says:

    Contrary to popular perception, the winner of a GOP statewide primary in Georgia is not always the candidate who is the farthest to the right:

    —In the 1988 GOP presidential primary, TV preacher Pat Robertson finished far behind Georgia H.W. Bush and Bob Dole.

    —in the 1992 presidential primary, Bush trounced Buchanan here by nearly a 2-1 margin

    —in the 1996 US Senate primary, Clint Day, backed by Christian conservatives, ran behind first-place Guy Millner and second-place Johnnys Isakson. (Millner won the subsewquent runoff 53-47% over Isakson, but perhaps what was more amazing was that an openly pro-choice candiate—as Isakson was then though not now—coudl get 47 percent in a Republican statewide contest here)

    —in the 1996 presidential primary, Dole beat Buchanan here

    —in the 1998 GOP runoff for lieutenant governor, Mitch Skanadalkis beat Clint Day, even though the former was being accused of being too liberal on social issues

    —in the 2002 GOP primary for governor, Sonny Perdue was not considered the most conservative candidate versus Bill Byrne and Linda Schrenko

    —int the 2004 US Senate primary, Isakson was regarded as the “liberal” candidate because he favored three exceptions on abortion, versus only “life of the mother” for Mac Collins and Herman Cain. Isakson still won (without a runoff). Isakson no doubt was the benfeciary of an expanding GOP primary electorate, not just one dominated by a few thosuand or tens of thosuands of voters. As UGA’s Charles Bullock wrote in a paper on that contest, “The influence of abortion opponents has weakened as greater numbers of more moderate voters come over from the Democratic primary. The Republican primary attracted almost 200,000 more voters in 2004 than eight years earlier when Isakson lost (to Guy Millner in the GOP runoff).”

    —In 2006, Casey Cagle beat Ralph Reed by 12 percentage points in the GOP race for lieutenant governor.

    —in 2010, arguably the most conservative candidate of the four considered viable was John Oxendine, who called for abolishing the state income tax. He finished fourth. True, Deal did beat the more moderate-considered Handel in the runoff, but by less than half a percentage point, and Handel’s defeat was probably in part due to her frosty ties with some of the GOP leadership (her attacks on the “good old boy” system).

    –and of course in 2012, Rick Santorum clearly was the more socially conservative candidate in the GOP presidential primary than either Gingrich or Romney. Santorum finished a very distant third here (though granted, no one was expecting him or Romney to beat Gingrich in his former stomping ground).

    Thus, this Senate primary will be especially interesting to follow, a battle between the conservative, and the very conservative?

    • Interesting data points, but I think Bulloch’s conclusion is wrong – the Isakson of 2004 is just so much better of a candidate than Collins or Cain and the tea party mentality hadn’t been organized by the Koch brothers etc.

      The proper way to look at the 1996 primary result is that Guy Millner was such a bad candidate an openly pro-choice alternative almost beat him, not the other way around. Contra Bulloch’s conclusion, there were fewer bubbas in the primary and more Buckhead Betty’s back then.

      I mean, you’d have to crazy to say that Georgia’s Republican primary has been moderating and not the other way around. The only thing I’ll give Georgia Republican primary voters credit for is that despite what I’m sure are their collective personal opinions, they’ve done a pretty good job over the last 15 years of picking nominees, unlike their counterparts in most other states.

      But again, if you were a betting man, you’d have to bet that that streak would eventually come to an end. With Broun and Handel occupying 50% of the likely primary space, I’m betting 2014 is the year.

      • To add a little context – the Georgia Republican primary has certainly been diversifying, but not by ideology, by region. In 1996, 45% of the votes in that runoff came from Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett, and Isakson won those 4 areas handily (while losing the state overall by 6%). Fast forward to the 2012 primary – only 24% of the votes came the same four counties.

        In 2004, Isakson was just the much better candidate and neither of his opponents had the money or the gravitas (hint one buys the other in the case of Millner) to make the abortion case.

        But to say, especially from a social conservative standpoint, that the Republican primary electorate has moderated as it has expanded overall, is insanity.

    • David C says:

      I think you make a lot of good, interesting points in that one re: The historical results of GA Republican Primaries. Of course, some of those elections that rejected Conservative Alternatives are complicated by ethics issues (Oxendine, Reed, Schrenko), favorite son status (Gingrich). There is certainly a preference for the Establishment candidate over what could be considered the crank or the outsider: Bush/Dole over Robertson, Bush and later Dole over Buchanan, Isakson/Millner (who had both already been GOP Gubernatorial nominees at that point) over Day. Also, of course, there’s the geographic factor: The electorate, including the GOP Electorate, is dominated by Atlanta and its suburbs and exurbs. It’s one reason Isakson beat Collins in ’04 and the population shift is only getting more pronounced. (This does not bode well for Kingston).

      One problem though I think is perception: Even if the GA Republican Primary Electorate is more mainstream than the candidates think, results and so-called RINO scalps from all over the country color their perception. None of the relatively establishment Republican Congressmen (or other officials that may jump in) want to be the next Lugar, Castle, Bennett, Dewhurst, etc. The thing that complicates all of it though is the runoff rule. The more people jump in the more likely something above 20% of a Republican electorate would be enough to get to the runoff. So they’ll all chase the most passionate crazies to get above 20% and hope they still come into the runoff as the establishment candidate and get above 50% then.

      I will freely admit I’m not a Republican, but this kind of perception of what the GOP electorate wants makes it harder than ever for us to get someone like Nunn or Richard Russell, who could be a statesman and work across party lines to make deals for the good of the state. There’s a reason Sam Nunn was getting 79.9% of the vote in 1984 even as Reagan won the state 60-39 (and every county save Fulton and the Black Belt). Congressman Kingston, who by all accounts has been a diligent hard worker in the House for 20 years, has been in some regards that kind of person. I suspect Georgia will miss his clout when he’s no longer in the House in 2013. But if he emerges from this election, I doubt Senator Kingston would still be that person.

      • Excellent points, and important to remember that even as greater Metro Atlanta’s clout has expanded in the Republican compared to just the core 4/5 counties, that has also made the primary more conservative. Just because they live in metro Atlanta doesn’t mean they can’t be rednecks (or choose something more appropriate).

  6. northside101 says:

    Yep, Chris is right—the GOP primary base has been expanding outside the traditional 4-county core of Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett, which is more than one can say about the Democratic primary voting base. In the 1990 Democratic primary for governor, a record total of 1,052,135 votes were cast (Miller, Young, Barnes and so on). Three years ago, a mere 395,467 voted in the Democratic primary for governor—a 62 percent drop. Worst turnout for a contested D gubernatorial primary in modern times. Worse than even 1946, when Gene Talmadge beat Jmmy Carmichael thanks to the county unit system and when many blacks were unable to vote in rural Georgia. Worse than 1962, when the urbane Carl Sanders trounced former govenror Marvin Griffin (852,350). In contrast, just 118,118 voted in the 1990 GOP primary for governor and 680,499 did so three years ago. Think one would say it is better to be on the latter end of that deal.

    Indeed, the base has grown to places like Cherokee and Forsyth Counties. Very Republican counties without question. How far right are they? Pretty far out there…both backed Handel in the 2010 runoff for governor (hardly the darling of the social conservatives back then). And how about this—both counties backed the casino gambling question on the GOP ballot last year (54% in Forsyth and 55% in Cherokee). Both counties even backed the lottery was back in 1992 when they were much smaller. Lord knows what they will do next…maybe approve Sunday alcohol sales? Bring back Blue Laws?

    He is also right that the GOP base is not moderating, as it was never that far right to begin with. Lets go back down Memory Lane to the 1992 US Senate primary (won by Coverdell). As the Atlanta paper reported on July 22 of that year: “Abortion was the single major issue on which the candidates differed…Mr. Coverdell was the most supportive of abortion rights-although he favors parental notification and opposes the Freedom of Choice Act.” The Christian Right candidate, John Knox? He came in third place.

    Four years later, Dole beats Buchanan 41-29% in Georgia (14 for Lamar Alexander and 13 for Steve Forbes). And Dole beats Buchanan by 15 points earlier in South Carolina.

    “The (primary) that the GOP’s most conservative wing, including the Christian Right and ‘movement conservatives’, are a distince minority in primaries, where suburbanites and Main Street Republicans vote in large numbers…Thus, (Pat ) Buchanan’s far-right campaign had limited appeal in…Georgia and South Carolina.” Southern Political Report of March 12, 1996.

    In 1998 primary, Mike Bowers, whose campaign was scarred by his long-term affair with a secretary, polled 40 percent of the vote—5 times the percentage of the Christian Right’s Nancy Schaefer. And there was no hiding that affiiar—it was all over the airwaves. And the thrice-married Guy Millner won a bare majority in that primary.

    Also in 1998, we had the Day/Skandalakis runoff for governor.

    “Day accused Skandalakis of waffling on abortion and gay rights and of trying to bring casino gamling to Georgia.” Atlanta Journal, August 12, 1998

    Adn Skandalakis still won, 52-48%.

    (Speaking of Millner, he probably would have beaten Cleland had not the Democrats abolished the general election runoff after Wyche Fowler’s loss to Paul Coverdell in the 1992 runoff. Millner lost by only 30,000 votes to Cleland, in an election where Libertarian Jack Cashin polled more than 80,000 votes. And that was in the day when Democrat’s still had strength in rural Georgia, unliked today. And also, Chris, nope, Isakson did not carry Gwinnett in the 1996 GOP runoff—Millner won it 55-45%, 20,437 votes to Isakson’s 16,902.)

    This is not to say the most conservative candidate can NEVER win a statewide contest, rather that it often does not happen. Just like the most liberal candidate does not always win the Democratic primary.

    Finally, Chris is right that nationally things are in the Democrats’ favor, certainly from an Electoral College standpoint. California alone (55 electoral votes) favored Obama by 3 million votes last year, New York (29 EV) Obama by 2 million. 85 electoral votes just right there between the two states. Texas (38 ev) was the only large state Romney won, and Georgia with 16 electoral votes was the largest state Romney won east of the Mississippi River. The 11-state region from Maryland to Maine has voted Democratic for president each time since 1992 except 2000, when New Hampshire favored Bush over Gore by about 7,000 votes–a state Gore would have likely won without Ralph Nader on the ballot. For Republicans nationally, it has gotten to the point they have to sweep the entire South just to have a chance of winning—and even that, if it were to happen, would be no guarantee of victory. Even if Romney had won Florida and Virginia, that still would not have been enough for him to beat Obama (assuming Obama retained non-southern swing states like Colorado, Iowa and Ohio).

    • I didn’t say Isakson won Gwinnett, I said he won the four county region that includes Gwinnett. And I wager to say that even though Millner won Gwinnett, he won the non-4 county region much larger than he won Gwinnett to overcome the metro margins.

      Look I’m the first to acknowledge that Georgia Republicans have done a good job with primaries so far. But the apparatus exists to boost the type of candidate who couldn’t win in the past. It’s happened in states far less Republican/conservative than Georgia. It will happen here.

  7. northside101 says:

    From Chris’s May 2 comments:
    “In 1996, 45% of the votes cast in that runoff came from Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett, and Isakson won those 4 areas handily…”

    Sounds like to me you are saying Isakson won Gwinnett!

    • Yeah I meant the combined four county area, which was a little unclear. The same way I could mean that Isakson won Fulton without winning every precinct.

      • Dave Bearse says:

        You should have left it at the first phrase of the first sentence.

        “In 2012, 28% of the votes cast came from CA, TX, NY and FL, and Obama won those 4 areas handily….”.

        It wasn’t unclear. It was a mistake. I ought to know because I make them all the time.

  8. ricstewart says:

    Anyone happen to know how many unbalanced budgets Kingston voted for over the years?
    Or the dollar amount of debt he’s voted for?

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