ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia’s Republican Senate primary runoff pits a multimillionaire businessman who’s never held public office against a congressman who’s spent more than two decades on Capitol Hill.
Former corporate CEO David Perdue and Rep. Jack Kingston have immediately worked to frame the matchup to their advantage. Perdue, a cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, blasts Kingston as a “career politician” who’s already had his chance to tackle challenges like a $17 trillion national debt. And Kingston says Perdue oversells his business record and his conservative credentials.
Democrats consider Georgia’s race, which will pit their nominee Michelle Nunn against either Perdue or Kingston, one of the party’s few chances to pick up a GOP Senate seat.
In an interview on Wednesday, Perdue said Democrats’ focus on Georgia is more reason for Republicans to choose him over Kingston. Both Perdue and Nunn have adopted the government outsider mantle, and nominating a sitting congressman would give Nunn an advantage, he said.
“If you like what’s going on in Washington, you’ve got a perfectly good politician to vote for,” Perdue said. “We got to this position because we presented an alternative to a career politician.”
Perdue said he spent Wednesday on the phone with supporters and had reached out to the three runners-up in Tuesday’s primary, all of whom had significant support from the tea party and conservative voters: former Secretary of State Karen Handel and Reps. Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun.
Democratic nominee Nunn, meanwhile, isn’t waiting for the GOP’s July 22 runoff to go on the attack. “It’s a race to extremes and represents the acrimony and inflexibility that people are tired of already in Washington,” the former nonprofit CEO said Wednesday after chatting with voters at an Atlanta diner alongside Mayor Kasim Reed.
She and her aides said that would be her line of attack regardless of whether she faces Perdue the outsider or Kingston the insider Nov. 4.
The ultimate outcome will help determine which party controls the Senate for the final two years of President Barack Obama’s administration. Republicans must pick up a net of six seats for a Senate majority and can ill afford to lose the Georgia seat opened by Sen. Saxby Chambliss’s retirement.
Nunn easily dispatched three primary opponents Tuesday as she aims for the seat her father held from 1972 to 1997.
Perdue, the former CEO of Reebok, Dollar General and a North Carolina textile firm called Pillowtex, led seven Republican candidates with 30.6 percent of the vote, according to unofficial returns. Kingston of Savannah was second with 26 percent. Now they start from scratch in a two-month campaign that Democrats hope will be expensive and divisive.
At his campaign party Tuesday night, Kingston extolled his experience as proof of his conservative credential and accused Perdue of glossing over his business career.
“I know my voting record is a matter of public scrutiny, and you will be hearing about it,” Kingston said. “But I will say to my opponent, so is your business record, and we will be talking about that.”
He recounted Perdue’s tenure at Pillowtex, where Perdue presided over layoffs and left the firm months before it closed. “My opponent says, ‘Trust me with America,'” Kingston said. “What about those 8,000 Pillowtex employees who trusted their jobs to him and he fired them?”
Perdue, recognized on Wall Street as a turnaround specialist, notes that he took over Pillowtex after a bankruptcy and says the company’s eventual downfall resulted from unmanageable pension obligations incurred before his arrival. He said Wednesday that talking about Kingston’s record in Congress will be central to the runoff campaign.
“We’re going to point out the crisis of the day, and what his contribution may or may not have been to rising debt,” Perdue said.
Kingston and Perdue made a point to look beyond the runoff, though, saying the ultimate prize is to help Republicans regain Senate control.
Both have followed the Republican strategy nationally to paint Democratic incumbents, challengers and newcomers as rubber stamps for Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Nunn said she’s already accustomed to that line of attack and she turned it right back to her usual critique of Washington.
“My name is the one that is going to be on the ballot, and I have pledged to be an independent, pragmatic and common-sense leader for Georgia,” she said, noting some of her critiques of the Obama administration.
“I certainly wish the president had invested in Savannah Harbor,” she said, referring to a long-delayed Georgia project. “I think the president could have done more with Congress to tackle our long-term debt. I think the president could have engaged more business people in his administration.”
But, she added, “I don’t think any of the folks on the other side will say this: We can achieve better results when we work together.”(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)