David Perdue speaks during a forum in Atlanta, Jan. 27, 2014.
John Bazemore/AP

Georgia’s Perdue may have an outsourcing problem

There are a variety of interesting primary races this year, but no contest is quite as competitive as Georgia’s Republican U.S. Senate primary. The top five candidates are separated by just eight points, and just over the last few months, three different polls have shown three different candidates in the lead.
 
Recently, however, businessman David Perdue has begun to separate himself, at least a little, from the GOP pack. Perdue, a cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue (R), has spent heavily on a television ad campaign, talking up his private-sector experience, background in creating jobs, and familiarity in international affairs thanks to his international business dealings.
 
But Benjy Sarlin reports on a potential wrinkle in Perdue’s resume.
When Perdue arrived at Haggar Clothing Co. in 1994, the historic menswear company was struggling. Revenues were down, old reliable products like suits were in decline, and competitors like Levi’s were muscling in on their department store sales.
 
As senior vice president, Perdue was in charge of international operations at Haggar and later domestic operations as well. Under his watch, the company did what so many clothing manufacturers did at the time: closed down factory lines in America and outsourced production overseas where labor was cheap and regulations were less restrictive.
Sarlin’s report documents significant job losses through outsourcing, on top of factory closings, consolidations, and reduced work hours at U.S. facilities.
 
Perdue talked to Sarlin about the business decisions and the need to protect his company’s financial interests. “We very definitely looked at trying to maintain as much volume as we could [in America],” the Senate candidate said. “The problem was if you looked at the cost sheet of a product made in Mexico versus a product made in South Texas … the Mexican product had an advantage.”
 
He added, “To politicians who have never been in a free enterprise system this sounds really easy. It is anything but easy. It’s very messy.”
 
As I suspect Mitt Romney can attest, that’s true. When a business leader outsources jobs in the private sector and then seeks prominent public office, it can get “very messy,” indeed.
 
I’ll leave it to pundits in Georgia to say whether and how much a story like this will matter, though when five candidates are separated in the polls by eight points, even minor changes to candidates’ support could well be the difference between victory and defeat.
 
That said, Ed Kilgore, a Georgia native, is raising the right questions.
The big question is whether any of Perdue’s rivals have the money and motivation to make a major deal of the downside of his corporate experience, as Newt Gingrich did (with Sheldon Adelson’s money) in the nasty but effective “King of Bain” video aimed at Mitt Romney, which some observers think set the table for Democratic attacks on Romney in the general election. A new Insider Advantage poll shows the under-financed Handel moving up into third place in the Senate contest, presumably because of her exploitation of Perdue’s remarks about her educational background (with some help from a “Mama Grizzly” endorsement from Sarah Palin). Phil Gingrey is sitting on a sizable campaign treasury, and might be tempted to go after Perdue as well. Jack Kingston continues to advertise heavily and demagogically.
Primary voters will weigh in on May 20. If no candidate gets a majority – and at this point, it’s hard to see the scenario in which someone does – the runoff will be July 22.
 
The Democrat in the race, Michelle Nunn, faces no primary and appears to be well positioned for a credible general-election race.
 

Georgia

Georgia's Perdue may have an outsourcing problem