Guest Column

Democrats have a Senate candidate

Now Georgia Democrats have a candidate to rally around in the race to replace the retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss. 

Branko Radulovacki officially entered the race last month when he filed papers with the Federal Election Commission, but his press release didn’t begin to filter to political reporters until last week. 

Nicknamed Dr. Rad, the Atlanta psychiatrist is a political newcomer who is still formulating his positions. He describes himself as a moderate. 

“I believe in personal freedom balanced with individual and collective responsibility,” he said. “I am for fiscal self-control offset by wise investing (both short- and long-term). I support good health care for all (I am, after all, a physician) but feel we must confront issues of cost, need, and allocation of limited resources.” 

What that means exactly on individual topics remains to be seen. 

His candidacy ended the party’s plan to anoint Michelle Nunn in an uncontested primary. She hasn’t even formally said she intends to run. 

Other than having a father who was a senator, Nunn has little advantage over Radulovacki. And considering the Nunn name last appeared on a Georgia ballot before many primary voters were born or moved to the state, even that is of marginal advantage. 

A candidate’s first job is to hire a political consultant who’ll help formulate strategy, including the answers to position questions. Next come the fundraiser, campaign manager and press secretary. An opposition researcher will begin digging into the candidate’s own background for weaknesses and then the likely primary opponents’. 

For the candidate, after hiring the consultant who helps pick the other members of the staff, the main task is asking people for money, first from friends who’ll give out of courtesy, then to professional colleagues who’ll do the same. At the same time, a candidate will call on anyone who can be considered a party leader, from current and former officeholders to the big givers. 

Radulovacki probably won’t be heard from much in the coming months other than appearances at local party breakfasts and barbecues. If he’s smart, he’ll be busy though. 

These informal conversations will give him practice answering questions and honing his message before meeting the press. While the Georgia press corps is tame compared to states like New York, there is still opportunity for peril in addressing a dozen political reporters who likely know the issues as well as most veteran politicians. 

Rookies often aren’t sensitive to how their comments can be taken out of context by opponents. It’s the sort of thing that tripped up Missouri candidate Todd Akin over his “legitimate rape” remark, and he had been a congressman.

Experience is the best teacher, of course, and it helps to gain that experience in a lower-profile position. Radulovacki hasn’t even been on Facebook until now. 

Nunn has had a slightly higher profile. While Radulovacki launched his own foundation, FaithWorks and received national recognition as a “Top Doc,” Nunn’s charity, Points of Light Foundation, has ties to national figures like former President George H.W. Bush. Presumably that gives her a head start in knowing how to fundraise, but Republicans who contributed to a charity are less likely to give to her political campaign. 

From an organizational standpoint, Nunn’s father’s contacts could at least give her the names of people to call in counties around the state, even if they’re retired. Radulovacki has contacts in the faith communities. 

Radulovacki has his own advantages, starting with a compelling story. He came to the United States from Yugoslavia at age 7, earned degrees in management, Russian and economics and was a Wall Street banker before entering medical school. His academic pedigree includes Yale, Amherst and the University of Chicago. 

Plus, he’s a survivor, not just figuratively but literally after suffering from state 3 colon cancer. 

And he’s an ultra-marathon competitor, which means races over distances of 42 miles lasting sometimes for days. That kind of stamina could serve him well through both the grueling physical demands of long campaign days and also the mental challenge of an uphill quest in a state that still favors Republicans. 

The 2014 Democratic Senate primary may not shape up the way party faithful envisioned. But they may get better than they imagined because a spirited contest will raise the eventual nominee’s game, not to mention name recognition. 

(Walter Jones is the Atlanta bureau chief for Morris News and has been covering Georgia politics since 1998.)




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