Will Nunn Run?

“Sam Nunn is Tough, Sam Nunn is Young, Put Sam Nunn in Washington.”

Campaign Song, Nunn for Senate, 1972

Last week, former Democrat Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia said he is frustrated with the direction of the presidential race and in the direction of both parties. He also acknowledged talking with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others about an independent challenge to the major parties. “We’ve had conversations about frustration with the fact that the process is flawed,” Nunn said of Bloomberg. “I’ve told him … it may be time for some serious people to look at what I call a time-out and having people of good faith in the Democratic and Republican parties to come together and address the issues that the parties don’t seem to want to address.” He went onto say, “We have not discussed any kind of joint strategy,” Nunn added in an interview with The Associated Press. “I have just had conversations with him.”

This year may be the year for a serious independent run. With the ridiculously early primaries that will choose the major parties candidates by February and the incessant get-togethers masquerading as debates, the voting public will be sick of candidates. This will be good for late coming Republicans like Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich and for possible independent candidates. With the 9 months of “gestation” between the primaries and the general election, there will be time for an independent candidate to mount a campaign.

As a lifelong Georgian, I don’t see Sen. Sam Nunn as a Vice Presidential candidate. However, he has not been valued by the Clintons, John Kerry or Al Gore — so maybe an independent run is in the works with the likes of Michael Bloomberg.

Sen. Sam Nunn first announced his run for the US Senate in 1972 in my home town of Gainesville, Georgia. He was a fresh face and he had cousins in the medical profession living in Gainesville so he thought the Civic Center would be a great place to kick off his campaign and raise a little money. And by today’s standards, it was a little money.

Much has happened in the last 35 years. Sam spent 24 years in the United States Senate. He was a conservative Democrat as most Democrats from the south were back then and he made a name for himself as the “go to” man on defense issues. He had big shoes to fill, as Senator Richard Russell had been the virtual leader of the Senate for many years before and had made Georgia the key player in defense issues.

In 1996, Sen. Nunn stepped down from the senate. Nunn was a centrist Democrat of the old school by weaving a coalition of black and rural voters, and was one of the last of his kind. Nunn tried to steer his party into the middle and was often frustrated. In his retirement remarks he described the Democratic Party as pursuing a “brain-dead defense of the status quo.” He praised the Republican revolution for seeking lower taxes and entitlement reform but also said the revolution was in danger of going to extremes.

In his retirement announcement he said that neither party is serving the people and that they need to break their dependence on money and special interests or a third party will surely rise. He called for two-year budgeting so the Congress can spend less time on passing money bills and more time overseeing how the money is spent. Nunn was the ninth senator to announce he won’t seek re-election in 1996, the eighth Democrat. Not much has changed since 1996.

So what about Sam Nunn today? He’s stayed involved in policy on defense and nuclear issues. He works with the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) and is involved with the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at his alma mater of Georgia Tech. He has been involved with the Center for Strategic and International Affairs and is a retired partner of King and Spaulding. He’s served on the boards of Chevron, Coca-Cola, Dell Computer and General Electric. He’s also worked with potential rival, Fred Thompson on the film “Last Best Chance” on the dangers of excess nuclear weapons materials.

In the mid nineties, Nunn partnered up with Sen. Pete Dominici on a consumption based tax for tax reform. He has made no public statements that would indicate he has changed his mind on that. Fiscal discipline and the two political parties lack of is did factor into his decision to look at an independent opportunity for 2008 according to insiders close to him. So he seems to still be a fiscal conservative if he is a part of an independent candidacy.

The biggest issue of the day is terrorism and national security. Where would Sen. Nunn stand on terrorism today? On June 14, 2007, Nunn spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations about the threats we face today. He said, “The greatest threat we face today — catastrophic terrorism, a rise in the number of the nuclear weapons states, increasing danger of mistaken, accidental or unauthorized nuclear launch — we can prevent only in cooperation with Moscow, Beijing and many other capitals.” He went on to say, “If al Qaeda had hit the Trade Towers with a small crude nuclear weapon instead of two airplanes, a fireball would have vaporized everything in the vicinity.” Nunn gets it and has talked around the world about the dangers of nuclear weapons and the role of US leadership, cooperation with allies and “urgent new actions” that need to be taken against terrorist groups that are “conceptually outside the bounds of a deterrent strategy.”

If an independent candidacy develops, there would be time to mount a campaign and the money to run it. If that candidacy is Bloomberg/Nunn, it will take more from the independents and democrats. In the months to come, the numbers will be run and rerun as to the viability of an independent candidacy, but right now, Republicans have not done enough to win back the majority in Congress and maybe they probably don’t deserve it. The immigration issue has formed new alliances because border security first is not a partisan issue. Movement by the administration late last week in the direction of an overwhelming number of Americans on border security and workplace enforcement is the right move, but won’t be enough unless they mean to maintain the enforcement. That leaves the bad taste that people have for one party having all the power still in the mouths of the voters. That tends to support the election of a Republican for President or opens the door for an independent candidate. Sam Nunn knows how to walk through open doors and make the most of it. He’s done that all his life. If there is an independent candidate for President with the money to run will he take away from Republicans or Democrats? The answer to that question will determine who wins.