The Associated Press reports that former CEO David Perdue and congressman Jack Kingston won first and second place, respectively, in Tuesday's Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Georgia. Because Perdue, at 30 percent, did not win an outright majority, both he and Kingston (who got 26 percent) will face off in a runoff election for the GOP nomination on July 22. Fewer than 25,000 votes separated Perdue and Kingston.
The five-way primary saw former secretary of state Karen Handel come in third at 22 percent and congressmen Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun practically tied for fourth at 10 percent, according to the latest results from the AP.
How did Perdue and Kingston do it, and how does that portend for the runoff? Kingston's numbers in south Georgia, from which he hails, were impressive. He consistently won 70 percent or more in several counties, running up big totals in Chatham County (Savannah), Glynn County (Brunswick), Bulloch County (Statesboro) and Lowndes County (Valdosta). Kingston's votes in Chatham alone make up for more than half his margin over Karen Handel. And despite starting the race with little name recognition in the more populous northern third of the state, Kingston racked up enough votes in metro Atlanta counties to stave off any threat from Handel. Handel was also hurt by strong showings in some metro Atlanta counties like Cobb and Cherokee by Phil Gingrey, who represents those counties in Congress. By keeping her numbers down and performing well enough in Atlanta, Kingston ensured his place in the runoff.
Kingston also had the benefit of help from outside groups with advertising, particularly the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Rob Engstrom, the Chamber's political director, says Kingston represents the "very best of Georgia."
"He is tested, proven and ready to lead Georgia forward," says Engstrom. "The Chamber is proud to stand with Jack to help restore economic growth and bring America back." Expect to see more help from the Chamber on Kingston's behalf in the runoff.
As for Perdue, the first-time candidate was consistently first or second in nearly every county in the state. His early ad buys that defined him as an outsider ensured he separated from the pack of sitting and former elected officials. It didn't hurt that he shares the last name of his cousin Sonny Perdue, the first Republican governor of Georgia in the modern era. Perdue has the benefit of his own fortune, the lowest estimates of which are just under $12 million. He's likely to self-fund his campaign.
It's difficult to say who has the advantage in the runoff after such a close primary. Turnout will be even lower in July, and there are nine weeks of campaigning in between. Supporters of Handel, Gingrey, and Broun may be more likely to shift their vote to Kingston; talk-radio host Erick Erickson, a Handel supporter, was quick on Twitter to lend his support to Kingston, even before the AP made its final call.
But Kingston will have to grapple with his long tenure and record in the House of Representatives--11 terms--and the potential for an anti-incumbent, anti-Washington message from the Perdue campaign to take hold.
"Georgia Republicans have spoken tonight," said Perdue in his victory speech Tuesday. "They're concerned about the mess in Washington, like you and I are. And I believe they are looking for an alternative."
So, too, will the general election be an issue during the runoff. The Republican nominee will face Michelle Nunn, who easily won the Democratic nomination without need for a runoff. As Perdue said in his speech, "Whoever represents the Republican party as the Senate nominee this fall, they have got to beat Michelle Nunn this fall." The sense of urgency about beating Nunn isn't campaign-speech bluster; changing demographics in Georgia mean its recent GOP tilt may not be so in the next several cycles. Nunn, the daughter of former Democratic senator Sam Nunn, represents one of the Democrats better chances at flipping a Senate seat in their direction. Having an incumbent Republican in that seat when it's up again in 2020 is critical for the GOP.