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Ex-business executive wins Georgia Senate runoff

July 23, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) — A businessman making his first political campaign defeated a longtime congressman in the Republican runoff for Georgia’s U.S. Senate nomination, setting up a general election battle that will help determine which party controls the Senate for the final years of the Obama administration.

Former Reebok CEO David Perdue successfully campaigned as an outsider, though he is a cousin of a former governor who appointed him to a state board. He immediately shifted to general election mode, praising his defeated opponent and calling for party unity ahead of the November midterm congressional elections.

Republicans need six more seats to gain a Senate majority and full control of Congress for the final two years of President Barack Obama’s tenure, and the party cannot afford to lose retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ seat.

Perdue’s win sets up a November showdown with Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, who Democrats view as one of their best opportunities to pick up a seat in a predominantly Republican state. Nunn has raised a significant amount of campaign funds, far more than Perdue, but his personal wealth ensures that his campaign doesn’t have to worry about money.

Perdue spent more than $3 million of his own money blasting his runoff rival, Rep. Jack Kingston — and other primary rivals before that — as a career politician, including one ad depicting his rivals as crying babies. Perdue, also a former CEO of the Dollar General chain of discount stores, offered his private sector record and tremendous wealth as proof that he can help solve America’s ills in a Congress largely devoid of experience business titans.

With the win, Perdue overcame a Kingston coalition that included both traditional Republican powers and conservatives in the limited government tea party movement. Kingston ran with the endorsement and more than $2.3 million in advertising support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the influential pro-business lobbying group. He also garnered backing from tea party leaders and the movement’s favorite candidate in the race, Karen Handel, who finished third in the May primary.

But it wasn’t enough. With 99 percent of the precincts reporting, Perdue led Kingston by about 8,000 votes — enough for 50.9 percent of the vote. Perdue also led Kingston in the initial May primary, but both men fell well shy of the majority necessary to win without a runoff.

Kingston ran up huge margins across southeast Georgia, the area that includes the district he’s represented in the House of Representatives since 1993. But Perdue erased Kingston’s home base advantage by running more consistently around the rest of the state, particularly in the heavily populated Atlanta and its suburbs.

Kingston ran as an 11-term congressman in a year when voters have expressed widespread dissatisfaction with America’s direction, arguing that his record proves his conservative credentials. He pitched his range of endorsements as proof of his appeal across ideological barriers.

Yet the returns suggest that wasn’t enough to trump a political reality: Americans typically love their congressman but loathe Congress as a whole.

Nunn, an Atlanta nonprofit executive, uses her father, an old-guard Southern Democrat who served four terms, as an example of what kind of senator she’d be. She also eagerly highlights her tenure as executive of former Republican President George H.W. Bush’s foundation.

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