(WASHINGTON) — 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.
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 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. Kingston has also hit Perdue for failing to vote in previous GOP primaries and has accused him of backing the Common Core education plan, which Perdue has said numerous times he does not.
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.
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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Tom Kludt and Jeremy Diamond, CNN
Scott Stuntz, Teton Valley News
Tal Kopan and Evan Perez, CNN