The freewheeling Republican primary for an open Senate seat from Georgia was always expected to be a bruising affair. New polling confirms just how much.
Ahead of next week's primary election, voters remain highly divided among the five main candidates, all but guaranteeing a tough, costly runoff in July. Meanwhile, the Democrat, Michelle Nunn, is in a statistical dead heat with each of them.
In a year in which
In the primary, the top spot among the Republicans currently goes to David Perdue, the millionaire former executive who has never held public office -- but shares a family name with his cousin, a former governor. Perdue has maintained an early lead among about one-fourth of primary voters, according to surveys released Monday by the NBC News/Marist Poll and the St. Leo University Polling Institute.
But Perdue's hold is tenuous, despite his high favorable ratings. None of the GOP candidates appears likely to reach the 50% needed to avoid a runoff.
The question of who else makes the runoff appears to be a textbook case of the tea-party-versus-the-establishment party warfare that has defined Republican Senate campaigns this cycle.
Karen Handel, the former secretary of state who is backed by
Kingston leads slightly, with 18% in the St. Leo poll and 16% in NBC/Marist, but just nominally. Handel has about 15%.
Two other members of
The Nunn team likely would have preferred one or more of the conservative candidates to emerge from the primary. Nominating one of the hard-right Republicans would provide Nunn a contrast -- and an opening among moderate-minded Republicans, particularly suburban women outside of metro Atlanta, who find
But Nunn's campaign has largely refrained from meddling in the GOP primary as Senate Democrats have been known to do (see the 2010 races of
Nunn faces a tough climb to turn Georgia from red to blue, but with her own famous family name and the state's changing demographics, she has a number of advantages.
Both polls found a tight general election matchup at this point, regardless of the Republican nominee. Although some GOP candidates did slightly better against Nunn than others, the differences were generally within the polls' margins of error. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released over the weekend also showed a tight race between Nunn and the Republicans.
A key for Nunn will be the ability to register and turn out the many potential new voters in Atlanta.
Early voting for the primary already is well underway, but more than one in five primary voters remain undecided, even as ads have flooded the Atlanta-area media market.
Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute of Public Opinion, said the race appears destined for another round, and if that's the case, the top two finishers next Tuesday "is still in doubt."