Businessman David Perdue will be the Republican nominee for Senate in Georgia after narrowly defeating Congressman Jack Kingston in a runoff on Tuesday.
With 100% of precincts reporting, Perdue held a lead of less than 2% of the vote.
The result is a minor upset. While Perdue won the most votes in a five-way Republican primary in May, Kingston led polls of the runoff election. He will face Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn, in the general election.
Despite Georgia’s conservative lean, it’s one of just two states where Democrats are mounting a credible offensive campaign. Nunn held an 8-point lead over Kingston in poll last week by WSB-TV (to be fair, the same poll had Kingston winning Tuesday’s primary). And unlike her opponents, she avoided a bruising primary, giving her the space to build an impressive war chest for the general election.
Kingston and Perdue were each solidly conservative, if relatively establishment, primary candidates. The two led a close five-way primary in May that included former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) and Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.). Some Republican strategists were afraid the ultra-conservative Broun or gaffe-prone Gingrey, a physician who recently spread phony rumors that Central American migrants were carrying Ebola, might have given Nunn a decisive edge. Perdue and Kingston were considered stronger campaigners.
Perdue, the cousin of former governor Sonny Perdue, won the initial primary with a memorable series of ads positioning himself as an outsider and depicting his veteran politician opponents as crying infants. But Kingston, who touted his 20 years of experience representing the Savannah area in Congress, earned endorsements from Gingrey, Handel, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
Perdue’s ran touting his work running successful companies like Dollar General, but the Chamber of Commerce backed Kingston in the race. Perdue tried to turn the Chamber endorsement to his advantage by tying Kingston to some of its less conservative-friendly positions. In one late ad, he argued that the group’s support for immigration reform means “Kingston’s pro-amnesty vote is bought and paid for.” Kingston dismissed the claim when speaking with msnbc on Tuesday and said he opposes giving legal status to undocumented immigrants.
One concern for Republicans is that the lines of attack the two candidates used against each other were points that Nunn could pick up and use in the general election. Kingston tried to undermine Perdue’s business credentials by highlighting outsourcing and layoffs at some of his past companies, for example, an angle Nunn is poised to adopt in the general election.
“David Perdue has spent his career tearing apart companies and communities by slashing thousands of jobs in Georgia and across the country and outsourcing jobs to Asia, while walking away with millions for himself," Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a statement on Tuesday.
Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a statement that Nunn "repeatedly refuses to take a stand on the issues including ObamaCare" and that Perdue's "experience in the private sector will be put to good use in Washington, and his firsthand experience in creating thousands of good paying jobs will help Georgians."
Georgia Republicans also voted in three House runoff elections on Tuesday to replace the departing Kingston, Gingrey, and Broun.
Broun was known as one of the most conservative members of Congress, famously denouncing evolution and Big Bang theory as “lies straight from the pit of hell.” His successor looks like he’ll carry on that legacy. Ultra-conservative pastor Jody Hice, with Broun’s backing, won the nomination for the 10th district seat over businessman Mike Collins on Tuesday night. Hice gained notoriety for arguing that Islam “does not deserve First Amendment protection” in a 2012 book and denouncing homosexuality in fiery terms.
In Gingrey’s 11th district, former Republican Congressman and Libertarian Party presidential candidate Bob Barr lost his bid to return to the House against State Senator Barry Loudermilk, who was backed by the conservative Club For Growth. In Kingston’s 1st district, surgeon Bob Johnson, who was also supported by Club For Growth, lost to State Senator Buddy Carter.