Carter, a state senator and grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, announced in November he would be challenging Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, who is seeking a second term. State and national Democrats have rallied around Carter and he is not expected to draw a major primary challenger.
Carter said he was heartened by the level of enthusiasm and support he has received, noting the vast majority of Georgia donors to his campaign.
“We thought that Georgia was ready for something new and now we know it for sure,” Carter said. “There is pent-up energy both among Democrats and a lot of Republicans for a new and better discussion about where our state needs to be, and that outpouring is evident.”
Deal has yet to report his recent campaign contributions, although he’s expected to significantly increase the $1.1 million in cash he had on hand as of June 30. During his 2010 campaign, Deal raised nearly $8.4 million over the course of a crowded GOP primary and then general election match-up against former Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes. In that race, Barnes raised just shy of $9 million.
“Jason Carter will certainly need a substantial war chest if he’s going to base his campaign on fooling Georgians into believing that he is the one moderate, post-partisan Democrat in the Carter family,” Deal’s campaign manager, Tom Willis, said in a statement. “This would be a great haul for another Democrat in Georgia, but doesn’t seem overwhelming for someone who prides himself on his national, name-brand family.”
Carter’s fundraising is notable. In comparison, former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, a Democrat running for governor in Arkansas, who reported more than $1.1 million over a three-month period that ended Sept. 30.
“This level of early support is among the most impressive we’ve seen in the entire country,” said Danny Kanner, communications director for the Democratic Governors Association.
There’s no question that Carter’s campaign, along with Democrat Michelle Nunn’s bid for Georgia’s open U.S. Senate seat, has energized Georgia Democrats who have struggled in recent years. The state party has been dealing with weak fundraising since Republicans surged to power. In addition to controlling every statewide office, Republicans hold sizeable majorities in the General Assembly and voters have backed every GOP presidential candidate since 2000.
Yet Democrats say they see a path, bolstered in part by changing demographics — an increase in minorities and residents moving in from other states. Most state Democrats had been looking to 2018, but Carter and Nunn think they can move the electorate now and see hope with their early fundraising.
In her first 10 weeks, Nunn raised $1.7 million for her Senate campaign. Nunn is the daughter of former Democratic U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, a moderate who represented Georgia for 24 years, and she is campaigning on her experience leading Points of Light, the volunteer organization founded by former President George H.W. Bush.
Carter said he was confident he and Nunn will have the financial resources to wage successful campaigns, although he acknowledged Deal will raise “a gigantic amount of money.”
“We’re not running this race to spend the most money,” Carter said. “We’re trying to raise enough money to get our ideas out and we think that is how we will win, because folks are ready for a new discussion.”