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Georgia's Senate Primary: A Race to the End

9:35 AM, May 20, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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If there’s one thing we know about today’s Georgia Republican primary for U.S. Senate, it’s that we really don’t know who will win. Or, more precisely, we don’t know which candidates will come in first and second to proceed to the inevitable runoff election in July. With five major candidates in the running, it’s unlikely the winner will get the necessary 50 percent support to avoid a runoff. So even after today, we still won’t know who will be the Republican nominee in November. 

Georgia

First, who’s likely not to make the runoff? Phil Gingrey hasn’t led in a single poll all year, despite some early perceptions that the 71-year-old metro Atlanta congressman was formidable. Most polls in the last few months have found Gingrey at the bottom of the pile. Gingrey’s House colleague Paul Broun, 68, has similarly fizzled out, appearing strong when he entered the race last year but failing to earn above 15 percent in any poll.

Republicans in Georgia and Washington are collectively breathing a sigh of relief over this development. Both Gingrey and Broun have a history of controversial statements about abortion and science that party leaders and donors feared could destroy the GOP’s chances of holding on to the seat, as Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock did in Missouri and Indiana, respectively, in 2012. The talk among Atlanta-area business leaders was that if Broun became the GOP nominee, many in the business community would consider backing the likely Democratic nominee, Michelle Nunn. 

The primary, then, comes down to the other three candidates. David Perdue, 65, is the most likely to make it to the runoff. A wealthy businessman, first-time candidate, and cousin of former governor Sonny Perdue, he has led every poll in the race since February—sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot. His well-funded campaign was up early and often with TV and radio ads, as well as direct mail. Perdue has benefitted from being the only major candidate to never have held elected office, running with an “outsider” message and against the “babies” of Washington. By contrast, Perdue has been an executive at companies like Reebok and Dollar General, and earned a reputation as a turnaround artists with failing companies.

But Perdue has run into some trouble lately, first by the release of a video last month that showed him disparaging one of his fellow candidates, Karen Handel, as merely a “high-school graduate.” It was an unforced error—Perdue was trying to make the case that his business experience helps him understand the complex economic problems the country faces—and one that Team Handel took full advantage of. (Handel left home and an abusive father at age 17, taking college classes but never graduating. More on her in a bit.) 

More recently, Perdue’s opponents have jumped on his apparent endorsement of tax increases as a way to fix the deficit. Speaking to the editorial board of the Macon Telegraph, he said he would support both cutting spending and raising revenue, the latter of which one editorial board member pointed out was a euphemism for increasing taxes. Perdue reportedly “chuckled” at that and emphasized that he, unlike most others in the U.S. Senate, understands the need to raise revenue.

While these slip-ups have garnered plenty of media attention, it hasn’t really hurt his position in the polls. Expect to see Perdue in the runoff, though his chances to win the nomination depend on who his opponent is.

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