Michelle Nunn is facing criticism that she’s light on experience, she’s riding her father’s coat-tails and that she’s aloof.
And that’s just from her fellow Democrats.
In one of the nation’s most-watched political contests of 2014, Nunn squared off against fellow Democrats seeking Saxby Chambliss's U.S. Senate seat in a debate that will be broadcast Monday on GPB-TV.
Nunn, the frontrunner and a former nonprofit executive, spent the hour-long debate, taped on Sunday, responding to these charges, and others, including a question about whether she is in fact a Democrat. But Nunn, the daughter of former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, never appeared ruffled, and she had an answer for every attack. She even bragged about her agricultural bona fides by saying she’s “a third-generation farm-owner from Perry, Ga.” The family farm is home, she said memorably, to a pig named Maybelline.
Nunn Calls GOP Foes Extreme
And for the first time, she named her potential Republican opponents and wasn’t shy about questioning their vision of leadership, which she called “extreme.”
The debate provided a glimpse of what she’ll face if she wins the nomination and goes on to the general election. But experts say only a glimpse. If Nunn wins on May 20th, her Republican challenger can be expected to take things to the next level.
“This is child’s play compared to what the general election will be like,” said Buddy Darden, a former Democratic Congressman from Georgia, and a commentator for GPB. “It will be a lot tougher.”
Perhaps the most devastating and effective attack came from former state Senator Steen Miles who said Nunn was a newcomer who would be in over her head in Washington.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we can ill afford to send a political neophyte to Washington at this critical juncture,” she said in her closing argument.
Miles made it clear she doesn’t think Nunn’s experience running the Points Of Light nonprofit foundation would properly prepare her to serve in the Senate where it takes a lot of skill to bring Democrats and Republicans together.
Nunn Opponents Ask: Are You A Democrat?
"Having the legislative experience necessary to bridge those divides is critical,” she said in an interview after the debate. “Passing out awards, talking to volunteers....When she was passing out awards, I was earning them – for community service."
Army Veteran and longshot candidate Todd Robinson asked Nunn the bluntest question.
“Ms. Nunn, after viewing your videos or your commercials, I guess I’m curious,” he said. “There is nothing to indicate you’re a Democrat and that you support the policies that Democrats have put in place. Do you support Pres. Obama and are you a Democrat?”
Nunn, for her part, had her answer ready to go.
“I think it is self-evident since I’m standing here on this stage to win the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate that I am a Democrat,” she said.
Nunn also had an answer ready to the contention she lacks experience.
"As I talk to Georgians, I do not hear people say, 'We need people with more political experience. We need more people who have been there a really long time to serve there'," she said in an interview after the debate.
Her ability to fend off the attacks with grace and dignity was a relief to some, Darden said.
“A lot of her supporters were nervous about her having to go head to head with the other candidates,” said Darden. “She did not say anything that would be campaign commercial fodder against her in the general election.”
Sights On General Election Ahead
The race is one of the highest-profile political races in the U.S. this year. And Nunn used the debate to begin laying the foundation for the general election.
“One of the things I’m proud and excited about is not only have I been talking to Republicans, I’ve been earning some of their support,” she said, noting business leaders who’d signed onto a council providing her advice.
She continued, “I believe I am going to be able to appeal to independents and Republicans and those who are looking for sensible and reasonable leadership, as compared, for instance, to the Republican primary contenders who are in a race to the extremes.”
She chided Republican candidate David Perdue, for example, whom she said had called the Affordable Care Act “the ruination of the nation but a few years ago was for a federal healthcare solution.”
Darden said he was surprised Nunn mentioned Perdue and Congressman Jack Kingston when she singled out her potential Republican opponents. But he said that signals that she expects one of them will receive the GOP nomination, rather than Karen Handel or Paul Broun.
The four Democrats will square off again next at the ballot box on May 20, the date of Georgia's primary. To see the debate, tune into GPB Monday night at 7 p.m.