Former governor and U.S. senator Zell Miller on Thursday endorsed Democrat Michelle Nunn in the U.S. Senate race, citing her bipartisan approach as an antidote for Washington gridlock. He also said he intends to vote for Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, who faces a tough re-election bid against state Sen. Jason Carter.
Miller, 82, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he respected Nunn’s work as the head of Points of Light, the volunteer network founded by former President George H.W. Bush. He also cited his ties to her father, former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, whose last years in office largely coincided with Miller’s time in the governor’s mansion.
“I have great respect for her dedication to public service, and her dedication to bipartisan results,” Miller said. “I think she shares a lot of characteristics with her father.”
Miller, who was a Democrat when he held office, retains a strong following in Georgia, especially among older and more conservative voters, despite his absence from the political scene. The endorsements he’s made since his 2005 departure from the U.S. Senate have gone primarily to Republicans, which makes his backing of Nunn noteworthy.
The Nunn campaign is taking immediate advantage of Miller’s endorsement with a TV ad blitz – to counter a $2.5 million televised attack by the National Republican Senate Committee, denouncing her as “Obama’s senator.”
Only after he had finished extolling Nunn did Miller emphasize that he would stick with Deal over Carter, the grandson of former president Jimmy Carter, in the other high-profile contest. He noted that the Republican was saddled with serious economic troubles when he took office in 2011.
“I respect the manner in which he’s conducted himself addressing those problems,” said Miller, noting Deal’s efforts to shore up the lottery-funded HOPE scholarship program that Miller established in the 1990s.
Miller’s feelings about the two Democratic candidates could date back decades, to a time when Zell Miller, Sam Nunn and Jimmy Carter all wielded considerable influence in Georgia and beyond. Miller and Carter barely crossed paths in the statehouse in the 1970s, while Miller and Nunn overlapped for five years in the 1990s.
“[Miller] had a professional relationship with Nunn that he didn’t have with Carter,” said Steve Anthony, a Georgia State University political scientist who served as chief of staff to state House Speaker Tom Murphy during that period.
More recently, the ties between Miller and Carter have been more strained. Miller alienated many Democrats when he endorsed the re-election of President George W. Bush from the stage of the 2004 Republican National Convention. Jimmy Carter retaliated with a two-page missive blasting Miller for “historically unprecedented disloyalty.”
Miller responded just as bluntly, in an AJC op-ed published after his presidential candidate won re-election:
“Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton hummed the tune but never really sang the song, and that’s why Democrat prospects have gone south in the South.”
Miller dropped out of sight after he left the Senate, retiring to his home in the north Georgia mountains. But he has more recently re-emerged, and quietly reached out to many of those he feuded with in the old days to make peace.