CLARKSTON, Ga. (AP) — Georgia emerged as a battleground state Monday in the fight for control of the U.S. Senate as Democrat Michelle Nunn announced plans to run for her father's old seat, joining a crowded field of Republican contenders and setting off what will likely be a fiercely contested and costly race.
Nunn, the daughter of former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia and CEO of one of the nation's largest volunteer organizations, moved quickly to define herself as someone with the experience to set aside partisan rancor and build coalitions to solve the nation's problems.
"Wherever I go in Georgia people speak of their frustrations with what's not happening in Washington, that there is a focus on fighting instead of getting things done," Nunn said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I believe in the power of individuals to create change when they join together."
Nunn, 47, the daughter of former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, becomes the first well-known Democrat to enter the race for the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a Republican. Democrats see Nunn's candidacy as a chance to make inroads in a southern state that they once dominated, but where Republicans now control all statewide offices. Meanwhile, Republicans are making a push to win control of the U.S. Senate seat and cannot afford to lose the seat now held by Chambliss.
Nunn clearly hopes that talking about issues like reducing the federal deficit will position her well in a general election matchup. Nunn said she wants to work across party lines and pointed to her work as CEO of Points of Light, which was founded by former President George H.W. Bush.
Nunn also didn't hesitate to criticize President Barack Obama, saying she wishes more was being done to address the federal deficit.
"We need to take a much harder look at that and really make some hard choices, and I think neither side is willing to do that," Nunn said. "I've spent a lot of time looking at how people are willing to sacrifice for others and to be called upon for something greater than themselves, and I think that is a big part of the equation for solving the deficit."
Nunn, who is married with two children, also said some changes will need to be made to Obama's signature health care law. She said she sympathizes with small business owners who "are often burdened with too much regulation and too much taxes." She also said that some aspects of the law are beneficial, pointing to one element that allows parents to keep their young adult children on their health insurance plan until the age of 26.
"I think we need to look at it from a pragmatic perspective and fix the things that are not working and move it forward without all the politicizing," said Nunn, whose father, a moderate Democrat, served in the Senate from 1973 to 1997.
On the issue of abortion, Nunn said that she believes abortions should be "safe, legal and rare and that women should be ultimately able to make this very difficult personal decision in concert with their doctor and their family."
Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for the Senate Republicans' campaign committee, sought to link Nunn to national Democrats on the issues — a preview of what's to come in the weeks and months ahead.
"It takes more than just family ties to get elected to the Senate, and we look forward to a robust debate about the Obama/Nunn agenda and the ramifications that it has on middle-class families and women in Georgia," Dayspring said.
Nunn plans to file her official paperwork Tuesday to become a candidate and will hit the road next month to travel the state and meet with voters, said deputy campaign manager Zac Petkanas. The other declared Democrat in the race is Branko Radulovacki, an Atlanta physician.
On the Republican side, U.S. Reps. Paul Broun of Athens, Phil Gingrey of Marietta and Jack Kingston of Savannah — along with former Secretary of State Karen Handel — have entered the race.