WASHINGTON — Former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn is grappling with an issue many fathers face with their daughters: Letting go.
In an interview with the AJC on Wednesday, the former senator said he has been a sounding board for his daughter Michelle’s bid for the Senate but nothing more, and we should not expect to see him on the campaign trail all that much this year:
“Basically, I just respond when they ask me questions and show up when I get invited, and have learned to grin and bear it when they don’t take my advice. … And so it is an adjustment when, basically, you’ve got a whole group of young people who look at things a little different, and a lot of times they end up being right and I’m wrong. But, you know, sometimes I have to think that my advice is better than anybody else’s, but that’s something I’m getting accustomed to.”
Michelle Nunn has raised large sums of money since her entrance into the race in July, drawing partly from her four-term father’s network. For example, former Republican colleagues and close pals of Sam Nunn — John Warner of Virginia and Richard Lugar of Indiana — have written checks to the Michelle Nunn campaign.
Sam Nunn (pictured with Lugar in a 2007 AP photo) said he did not solicit either donation, but he thanked both men for their gifts. He said the support from the pair of moderate Republicans likely indicates their desire for more consensus-building in the Senate.
The father pointed out that he brought a far different background to his first Senate campaign than his daughter. Sam Nunn was a farmer, lawyer and little-known state House member from Perry when he announced his bid in 1972 in a massively crowded primary.
His daughter built an international volunteer service nonprofit powerhouse and has had the Democratic machine rally to her side. Sam Nunn said it would be a mistake for his daughter to ignore lesser known Democratic primary foes such as Dr. Branko Radulovacki and former state Sen. Steen Miles:
“I think she should assume that she does have a credible set of opponents. I do not know them well, but I think it would be a mistake not to take every opponent seriously and not to listen to what the opponents are saying and learn from them.
“It doesn’t mean you change your mind, but it means you respect all the people in the primary. You listen to them, you get to know them, and before the process is over you hope to unify the Democratic base and appeal to an awful lot of independents and Republicans. So I would counsel very much against taking the primary for granted in any way.”
Sam Nunn said he does not think it’s a great idea for him to go out stumping with his daughter:
“Having me with her — some audiences may be OK, but [with] others it would be a liability. I think it’s very clear that she’s her own person and that will become even clearer as she goes along, and I think that’s very important.
“I don’t think people are going to vote for Michelle because they know her last name. I think that may give her some attention to begin with and that’s a good thing, but I think she’ll have to convince them that she is the independent, commonsense kind of thinker that’s going to go to Washington and work with people on both sides of the aisle.
“They’re going to find the John Warners and the Dick Lugars of the Republicans in the Senate, and I’m sure there are some.”
Sam Nunn spoke after an event for his Nuclear Threat Initiative to release the organization’s “Nuclear Materials Security Index,” a ranking of the vulnerability of the world’s nuclear stockpiles.
For those keeping score, Australia comes in first place for keeping its nuclear material protected from potential terrorist hands. The United States is 11th, its standing hampered by the Senate not ratifying a pair of international treaties.
The most improved award went to Pakistan, while Iran and North Korea, unsurprisingly, are seen as most vulnerable to the theft of nuclear material.