Democrats and Republicans envision a competitive race in 2014 that could help decide who holds power in the U.S. Senate.
Democrats currently have a 54-46 voting advantage in the Senate and Republicans are already eyeing possible pickups in West Virginia, South Dakota and Montana, where the Democratic incumbents are not seeking re-election next year.
"Michelle Nunn makes this race competitive," said Merle Black, a political scientist at Emory University. "She has no experience but she has a great name. She clearly will be able to unify the Georgia Democratic Party and she'll be able to raise a tremendous amount of money."
Branko Radulovacki, an Atlanta physician, is also running for the Democratic nomination but party stalwarts are expected to line up behind Nunn.
Nunn told the Associated Press that she wants to get things working in the Senate. She pointed to her work as CEO of Points of Light, an organization founded by former president George H.W. Bush, as an example of how she can work across party lines.
"Wherever I go in Georgia people speak of their frustrations with what's not happening in Washington, that there is a focus on fighting instead of getting things done," Nunn told the AP. "I believe in the power of individuals to create change when they join together."
No Democrat currently holds a statewide elected office in Georgia and Sam Nunn was last on the ballot in 1990. President Obama lost to Mitt Romney last year in Southern states such as Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, but had his best showing among them in Georgia, where he garnered 45%.
A divisive Republican primary could help the Democrats. Black noted that GOP Reps. Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey could have a tougher time raising money for a competitive general election race than Rep. Jack Kingston or former Georgia secretary of state Karen Handel, who forced a GOP runoff for governor in 2010. Broun and Gingrey have attracted attention in the past for some of their controversial comments about evolution and rape, respectively.
"The Republican primary has increasingly become a right-wing circus that will produce a flawed candidate like Todd Akin," said Justin Barasky, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Akin is the Senate GOP nominee in Missouri who lost a race last year in large part due because of his comments about "legitimate rape."
Barasky said Nunn's background as a chief executive and her career devoted to service will appeal to voters across party lines, as well has her long history working with the Bush family.
Black said Nunn and the Democratic Party will have to be ready for Republican charges that she is "a liberal Obama-Pelosi Democrat," a charge that stuck in the special election for Congress earlier this year against Elizabeth Colbert Busch in South Carolina. Like Nunn, Colbert Busch had a famous name — her brother is comedian Stephen Colbert — but was largely unknown by voters. Republican Mark Sanford won the election.
The Georgia Republican Party welcomed Nunn to the race on Tuesday with a news release that tied her to President Obama, calling him "your friend" in an open letter to the new Democratic candidate.
"Even though the general election is more than a year away, you can rest assure that the Georgia Republican Party will make your campaign for the United States Senate our priority, and we will work daily to remind Georgia voters how out-of-touch you and the Democratic Party are with their values and convictions," the Georgia GOP said.