After Bitter Senate Runoff, Georgia Republicans Will Pick a Candidate

PHOTO: A man leaves an early voting poling place in Lonoke, Ark., May 5, 2014.

Two months of Republican-on-Republican badmouthing will finally come to an end in Georgia on Tuesday.

Either Rep. Jack Kingston or former Dollar General CEO David Perdue will become the GOP candidate for the state's open Senate seat, to be vacated by retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss, kicking off what’s expected to be one of the most hotly contested elections in the country.

The top two finishers in a seven-way May 20 primary, Perdue (30.6 percent in that vote) and Kingston (25.8 percent) have run an intensely negative race against each other ever since -- one marked a few minor controversies and stumbles, and TV airwaves saturated with negative ads.

READ: Georgia's Chaotic Senate Primary Gives Way to Runoff

Each candidate has sought to be regarded as the more conservative.

Perdue, the cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, has aired a string of TV ads assailing Kingston as a big spender who will continue Washington’s current ways. In a congressional career that began in 1993, Kingston has, at times, ranked near the top of Congress in earmarks, and Perdue has presented himself as a political outsider capable of shaking things up.

READ: Kingston, Perdue Hone Attacks in Ga. Senate Debate

In his own series of negative ads, Kingston has relentlessly questioned Perdue’s business record, pointing to layoffs, offshoring, and a bailout by a government agency at companies with which Perdue was involved, also hitting Perdue for failing to vote in previous GOP primaries and accusing him of backing the Common Core education plan, which Perdue has said numerous times he does not. Kingston has collected a wide array of supporters, including two former primary opponents (tea partier Karen Handel and fellow U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey), conservative blogger Erick Erickson and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He has presented himself as an experienced legislator who could obtain better Senate committee assignments than Perdue could.

Perhaps true to his political-newcomer persona, Perdue has made several comments on which Kingston’s campaign has pounced -- one suggesting that the federal government should raise revenues in addition to cutting spending (which many interpreted as openness to tax hikes); another mocking primary opponent Karen Handel’s high-school-only education background; and another responding to a question about coal emissions standards and competition with China by saying Americans “see the world through the ugly American's eyes,” followed by Perdue agreeing with a newspaper questioner’s assertion that “we’re arrogant teenagers.”

READ: Kingston, Perdue Offer Few Details on Budget Fixes

Kingston, for his part, predicted in a radio interview that Congress will seriously consider impeaching President Obama, but he has since refused to say whether he personally thinks Obama should be impeached.

“I think our big concern is to stop the lawlessness of this administration,” Kingston told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution when asked specifically about his views. “The president picks and chooses laws which he wants to enforce, whether it’s on Obamacare or immigration, that’s what our concern is.”

In a subsequent conversation with ABC News, Kingston’s campaign manager reiterated the sentiment but declined to say whether Kingston supports impeaching the president, an issue that has been put to GOP candidates after Sarah Palin accused the president of intentionally allowing illegal immigrants into the U.S. and suggested he should be removed from office.

Perdue signaled opposition to impeachment but later said that, while he doesn't know if President Obama has done anything to deserve impeachment, if the president did, Perdue would support it. Perdue told the Washington Post earlier this month that Republicans should focus on taking a majority of Senate seats, and his campaign spokesman told the Post that Perdue opposed impeachment. He later told a local TV station that, "I'm not up there, I don't have the facts, but right now, one thing I know is if he's violated his oath of office to a degree that's egregious enough to do that, I'll be involved in it, but right now my focus if I were to be elected, would be to get up there and do the things that I've talked to people about doing out here in the real world."

No reliable polling has been conducted in the runoff.

Prompted by none of the seven initial-round primary candidates surpassing 50 percent of the vote in May, the runoff has bought time for Democrat Michelle Nunn, a candidate who has raised Democratic hopes of taking a Senate seat in a deep-red GOP stronghold.

The daughter of former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn and the former CEO of President George H.W. Bush’s Points of Light Foundation, Nunn has faced questions about her stance on Obamacare (she supports modifications to it, won’t say whether she would have voted for it and has opposed repeal), but Nunn has largely avoided direct attacks from the Republican candidates running against each other.

Polling has shown a real possibility of Nunn winning in November: In early May, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution survey showed her beating Perdue by one percentage point (statistically even) and topping Kingston by 10 in prospective matchups.

Despite an electorate comprised of 41 percent minorities among active registered voters, no Democrat has won a statewide election in Georgia since Sen. Zell Miller in 2000, and no Democratic presidential candidate has come within 5 percentage points of winning Georgia since Bill Clinton carried it in 1992, eking out a win from George H.W. Bush by fewer than 1 percentage point. (Ross Perot collected 13.3 percent that year.)

After the runoff, the winner can be expected to ramp up attacks on Nunn. A conservative group, the Ending Spending PAC, reportedly bought air time last week to attack her with a round of ads.

“After the Republican primary run off, the joyride for Michelle Nunn will come to an abrupt end,” Georgia GOP spokesman Ryan Mahoney said.

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