Of 'class warfare,' fancy SUVs and seaside sand in the GOP Senate race

While you were away celebrating your mothers this weekend, there were three U.S. Senate debates -- two for the Republicans, one for the Democrats. You can read the dead tree roundups here and here.

Saturday night in Columbus there were some pre-planned jabs in Karen Handel's and Jack Kingston's closing statements hitting David Perdue. By Sunday, the real fireworks got going, in a format that rewarded combat by allowing the candidates to question each other.

Kingston was asked if his hits on Perdue are "class warfare." Kingston's response:

"Just as my record in as a Member of Congress is scrutinized by all the voters -- as it should be -- I think someone's business record is relevant. And in this case my friend is telling everyone I can fix problems in Washington, and yet as CEO of Pillowtex he bankrupted the company. He was only there nine months and received a million-dollar bonus on his way out the door. I think that's relevant. Those 8,000 people will be coming out of the woodwork, probably to run ads for the Democrats, if he's the nominee."

Perdue's response:

"Congressman Kingston knows full well Pillowtex was already in bankruptcy when I was hired. It's a tragedy. It's a manifestation, though, of decades of bad government policy that decimated multiple industries -- footwear, apparel, textiles, furniture, electronics, all across this country. I was a person who ran to a burning building to try to help."

Kingston's campaign chimed in after the debate saying Perdue "lied" about Pillowtex being bankrupt when he took over because it emerged from an earlier bankruptcy just before he took over as CEO. It went back under for good shortly after he left. Perdue's aides noted that it was in bankruptcy when he was "recruited" for the gig.

Handel asked "who is the real David Perdue" and brought up Pillowtex, his "insider appointment" to the Georgia Ports Authority and his comments about her, the "high school graduate in this race." After saying that the ports were looking for someone with international business experience, Perdue turned the table on Handel:

"I just have a question for you about priorities. You know when you were Secretary of State, Karen, it seems to me I remember that in '08 and '9 you actually on taxpayers' money bought a luxury Lexus SUV while people were losing their jobs in Georgia."

Handel avoided the SUV jab and went back to Perdue:

(Her campaign later said she opted for a car stipend during her stint as Secretary of State rather than driving a state-owned vehicle or getting mileage reimbursement, and that she owned her car before she ran for the office.)

Kingston followed by hitting Perdue for not voting in Republican primaries in Georgia since moving back in 2009, except for the 2012 presidential preference primary. Perdue was ready again to strike back:

"In three years alone you spent $200 million of taxpayer money on 145 different earmarks. That doesn't sound like frugality to me."

Kingston's reply:

"So I am correct then, you have not voted in a Republican primary and I think that is extremely relevant to people who are looking at a conservative candidate and somebody who's been in the fight. And I've been in the fight and you've been holding it against me, but I've been there."

Phil Gingrey took a shot at Kingston on an earmark for Tybee Island:

"One thing I cannot understand is the million-dollar earmark that you voted for and effected to restore Tybee Island beachfront property when you have prop 500 feet from Tybee Island beach. That's the kind of thing that I think a member of Congress should recuse themselves and not vote on that."

Kingston came back with this:

"Phil, I'm a little embarrassed for you for asking that question. That project was authorized in 1964 or 5. I'm not 100 percent sure. But I was 10 years old when that project was authorized. As you well know or should know as a member of Congress that beach renourishment is an ongoing Corps of Engineers federal interest because of flood control."

Gingrey's camp points out that Kingston added money on top of what the Corps deemed necessary for the beach.

Rep. Paul Broun, oddly, skipped the chance to ask a question of an opponent and just gave an abbreviated stump speech.

Perdue quizzed Kingston, first elected in 1992, on term limits. Kingston said he delivered on his promise because he co-sponsored five bills in favor of term limits and "one of the key things is that everybody jump into the water at the same time."

Perdue's retort: "Congressman, if you really believe in term limits, why are you still here?"

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Former Whitfield County GOP chair Phil Neff, who called Speaker David Ralston's late father a "snake" at a tea party gathering last week, is walking back his comments.

The Dalton Daily Citizen reports that Neff said he was referring to Willard Ralston's politics and were not personal. From the Citizen's report:

Neff said the comments were in reference to Willard Ralston's leadership in the Republican Party, which he believes diverged from party principles Willard Ralston said he would uphold, and what he said is similar behavior from David Ralston.

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Apparently, Ray Boyd lived up to his promise to give away $5,000 to someone who showed up to his Saturday press conference in Ellijay.

As to what he announced, we're not sure. But Fetchyournews.com reports he didn't talk about the candidates but rather his concerns with electronic voter machines.

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One of our number today has the second in a series of Senate candidate profiles with a look at Rep. Paul Broun, as he applies the "zeal of a convert" to everything he does. One of Broun's most famous utterances is that evolution, embryology and the Big Bang Theory are "lies from the pit of hell" -- a quote often cited by those who say he would be a faulty general election candidate.

(You can find the first piece, on the Democrats jockeying against the Michelle Nunn juggernaut, right here.)

So what do the other Republican candidates think about evolution?

Rep. Jack Kingston was asked by Bill Maher in 2011 if he believed in evolution: "I believe I came from God, not from a monkey, so the answer is no. ... I don't think a creature crawled out of the sea and became a human one day. I think there's adaptation."

Businessman David Perdue's spokesman had this to say: "David believes God created all things and that evolution is simply a biological process which occurs within God’s design.  The two are not mutually exclusive."

Former Secretary of State Karen Handel had a similar response:

"And the second point is that when it comes to human beings -- man, meaning man and woman -- what makes us human beings is that we have souls. And a soul can only come from God."

Rep. Phil Gingrey was closer to Broun's and Kingston's view:

"And I truly do believe in God creating man and giving us a soul and an opportunity to understand right from wrong and gain eternal salvation. And that's my position on evolution and creationism."

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Kingston is out with a new ad today in which he vows to fight military cuts, shifting back to positive mode after the Perdue hit.

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A pair of polls out this morning in the Senate Republican primary show Perdue in the lead and Kingston in second. First off, we have an NBC News/Marist poll. The poll was done by live interviews of 2,608 adults, of whom 533 were likely Republican primary voters. With a margin of error of 4 percent, here's how the poll finds the GOP primary field:

-- Perdue 23 percent

-- Kingston 18 percent

-- Handel 14 percent

-- Gingrey 11 percent

-- Broun 11 percent

In general election registered voter matchups, the NBC News/Marist poll found Perdue beats Michelle Nunn 45 percent to 41 percent, Broun leads 43-42, Kingston and Nunn are tied at 43, Nunn leads Gingrey 44-42 and Nunn leads Handel 42-39.

Also we have a poll from Florida-based St. Leo University Polling Institute. Their sample is an online poll of 689 likely GOP primary voters with a 4 percent MOE:

-- Perdue 26 percent

-- Kingston 16 percent

-- Handel 15 percent

-- Broun 13 percent

-- Gingrey 8 percent

In St. Leo's general election estimation, Perdue leads Nunn 41-37, while Nunn leads the rest of the field by slim margins.

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In addition to the Senate folks GPB hosted Congressional debates Sunday. In the 12th District GOP race, Evans businessman Eugene Yu was a last-minute no-show. It might have had something to do with this Augusta Chronicle article from Walter Jones that ran Saturday:

"Yu, who is in second place in the Repub­lican race in the 12th District according to the latest poll, had loaned his campaign more than $736,000 as of April 30. But he did not list that much in liquid assets on his personal financial disclosure, and the income from his investments are a fraction of that amount. ...

"If Yu got a loan, it could only be for personal reasons and not simply to fuel the campaign through the back door, according to [unaffiliated campaign attorney Bryan] Tyson. The same with anyone making an outright gift to him personally, although there is no limit on what a candidate can lend or give to his or her own campaign.

"The motives for making a loan or gift directly to a candidate could spur the curiosity the Department of Justice's Public Integrity Section, which is charged with policing what are known as straw donors. Those could be put to rest if Yu has written arrangements or documentation of long-standing personal connections to his funding source."

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At Michelle Nunn's first and only debate, she sought to remain above the fray. As she was quizzed about whether she's a real Democrat -- since her ads don't mention it -- and why she does not do more forums, she used her question to ask Army veteran Todd Robinson what we can do to support veterans, meaning she got a chance to talk about helping them, too.

Here was how Nunn dealt with the arrows. On whether she's a Democrat:

"I think it is self-evident since I am on the stage here to win the Democratic nomination for the Senate that I am a Democrat. I have spent my life as a Democrat. It's part of my family heritage. It's part of the values that i embrace that include fairness and equity and opportunity for all and compassion and empathy as well. ... I am absolutely in pursuit of the Democratic nomination but at the same time I want to represent all of Georgia and I believe we need bipartisanship."

Robinson asked about President Obama and "can you call his name?" Nunn replied:

"I'm proud to have worked with President Obama and I've had a really fortune,  the great fortune to have worked with all of our presidents. But i am very grateful for my service with President Obama, with Michelle Obama and I am excited to advance the things that I think are are for Georgia and would work with President Obama to accomplish that and if we have areas of disagreement I will work to make improvements as well."

Former state Sen. Steen Miles asked about Nunn's support for striking Syria. Nunn said she was backing Obama:

"So if we look back in time at the issue of Syria y'all will remember that the president declared a red line and said that if President Assad used chemical weapons that America would take action. And at the time I supported the president in that affirmation. We were able to with, I think, a strong response from the president we were able to actually negotiate diplomatic action that has ensured that now 75 percent of the chemical weapons in Syria were removed."

Later on, Miles delivered the sharpest zinger to Nunn: "I think that bucket of money, that bucket of money gives you a certain arrogance that perhaps you don’t need to engage these voters, that all you need to do is make commercials." Nunn's reply:

"So we agree about campaign finance reform. ... We need to overturn Citizens United. We need a DISCLOSE Act. But none of us can unilaterally disarm. And we all need to do our best to engage our citizenry in supporting, with the broadest base possible, our candidacy. And I feel fortunate that I have 25,000 people that have made a contribution to our campaign. Seventy-five percent of them have given less than $100. So what I have is a grassroots movement and that's what my campaign is about."

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Rep. Lynn Westmoreland landed one of the seven GOP spots on the 12-person committee tasked with investigating the 2012 attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya.

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Rep. Paul Broun's son got into some legal trouble over the weekend.

The Athens Banner-Herald reported the Senate candidate's 23-year-old son, Paul Collins Broun III, was booked into the Clarke County Jail on Saturday on misdemeanor marijuana and traffic charges. He was released after posting a $1,500 bond.