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Democrats hope to find early consensus choice for U.S. Senate race

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John Barrow and Michelle NunnBelieving their ability to win Georgia’s open U.S. Senate seat next year is predicated on dodging a costly and divisive nominating contest, Democratic leaders have begun quietly working to anoint a consensus candidate, multiple party donors and operatives say.

U.S. Rep. John Barrow, the coastal blue dog who has thwarted consecutive Republican efforts to bounce him from Congress, and Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former U.S. Sen. Sam Sunn, are both actively evaluating primary bids, but the potential for a bruising intraparty bout has party leaders concerned.

“We had too many incidences when we’ve run Democrats against each other, spent a lot of money and then had nothing to show for it,” Georgia Democratic Party Chairman Mike Berlon told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “If you’re the party on the rise like we are, resources aren’t plentiful. We have to do more with less and make sure we have the right candidates.”

Barrow and Nunn are expected to meet in the coming weeks to discuss the race, though it is widely believed among Peach State insiders that national Democrats would prefer Nunn yield to Barrow, whom they regard as a tested and known quanity.

“Nunn is political royalty in Georgia, there’s no denying it, but her father’s coattails can only drag her campaign so far,” one Democratic operative who asked to remain anonymous told Tipsheet. “Democrats need someone who has been in the trenches, with a track record of foiling GOP attacks. That’s not Michelle Nunn.”

But even if Nunn can be dissuaded from running, Democrats’ unity effort may be spoiled by one of their own, a retread who has since long fallen from grace with party eminences but nonetheless remains popular with African Americans, a critical demographic if the party hopes to build a winning state coalition.

Vernon Jones, the former DeKalb chief executive who narrowly lost the the Democratic Senate nomination in 2008, has hinted he may again pursue the seat, whether or not party bigs want him.

“There’s gonna’ be a battle in 2014,” Jones said. “My powder is dry, my musket is clean and I have a satchel full of bullets. And I’m not gonna’ shoot until I see the white of their eyes. Stay tuned.”

One Washington Democratic consultant with whom Tipsheet spoke said the margin for Nunn yielding to Barrow diminishes considerably if Jones launches a campaign.

“Democrats are delusional if they think Michelle would stand down to clear a field that isn’t clear,” the consultant said by email.

- James Richardson