News of two-term Senator Saxby Chambliss’ (R-Ga.) upcoming retirement next year has already made the Peach State’s open seat one of the most closely watched for 2014. In a year where Democrats will be defending more Senate seats than Republicans, Georgia offers a potentially critical pick-up. Still, it’s an uphill battle, and it remains to be seen who will throw their hats into the race. But there’s one name everyone should be watching out for: Republican Congressman Paul Broun, who is expected to announce his candidacy soon.
If you’re not familiar with Broun, you’re not alone. He’s not likely to be the next generational candidate like a Barack Obama or a new visionary in his party like a Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). If anything, he may actually be the next Republican misstep in the model of Todd Akin (R-Mo.) or Christine O’Donnell (R-Del.).
He may not believe weird things about “legitimate rape,” and he may not be a witch, but Broun is about as anti-science as you can get. It’s bad enough he’s a global warming denier, but he’s gone on record with material so much further than that:
"All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it's lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior. You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I've found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I don't believe that the Earth's but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That's what the Bible says."
If global warming denial is being compared to being a flat-earther, Broun is more like anti-wheel. Perhaps it would surprise you that Broun serves on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. It shouldn’t. While he’s certainly an extreme case, he’s one of many anti-science Republican voices on that committee including its current chair, Lamar Smith (R-Texas).
Should Broun be elected to the senate, he would arguably be the most extremely anti-science senator in the country. Too many political decisions are already driven by ideology and anecdotes rather than pragmatism and data. A Senator Broun would promise to make it worse and would be a very clear step in the wrong direction.
The good news is he still has to win, and that’s a tall order. Like many extreme candidates, Broun has demonstrated his electability in his congressional district but has yet to prove that he can win in a statewide contest. This has become a more critical test in the last few election cycles as Tea Party candidates have had success defeating more moderate Republicans, even incumbent ones, in senate primaries just to discover that voters statewide find them too extreme. Of course, chances are certainly better in a red state like Georgia and in a year without a presidential election than if neither of those conditions existed.
Chambliss has a conservative record, but his willingness to compromise on the debt ceiling and his refusal to sign the Grover Norquist anti-tax pledge quickly left him at risk of losing his primary re-election. We will never know, but it’s possible that he would have lost in a head-to-head primary match up against Broun.
Sadly, opposing science has become more common among Republican candidates and even some Democratic ones. Many of the more extreme anti-science candidates in recent years were defeated — albeit not necessarily because of their anti-science positions. Global warming denial is already a part of the Republican litmus test, but if the trend continues other scientifically inconvenient topics could eventually join the list.