GOP runoff for U.S. Senate could be an exciting summer rerun

If anyone tells you he knows what will happen on the GOP side of the U.S. Senate race Tuesday, spit in his eye.

Turnout is likely to be so low that a mayor’s race in Muscogee County could sweep this candidate or that into one of two runoff berths.

That said, there’s a strong possibility that, next week, Georgia Republicans will decide to air a summer rerun leading up to the July runoff — a remake of the bitter, last-ditch 2012 presidential primary battle between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

Some typecasting is involved.

David Perdue, a wealthy corporate rescue artist with great hair, is auditioning for the role of Romney, a wealthy corporate rescue artist with great hair.

Horse-race polls have been hither and yon, but Perdue has appeared strong in most of them. He’s been lifted by nonstop TV ads that show him in a blue-jean jacket, collar turned up rebel-style, and his chief rivals as a diapered load of crying babies.

“Fixing big problems is what I’ve done most of my life,” Perdue said during a Sunday debate, not unlike a certain former governor of Massachusetts.

Both U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston and former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel are doing their best to duplicate Gingrich. Visually, both are a stretch. But when you close your eyes and listen, their imitations are dead-on.

“He’s trying to buy this race,” Handel said during a Sunday debate, after describing Perdue as “an out-of-touch, elitist insider.”

She accused Perdue of obtaining “an insider appointment” to the Georgia Ports Authority — from his cousin, Gov. Sonny Perdue. David Perdue replied that his global experience qualified him for the spot.

It was an interesting Rubicon for Handel to cross, given that she was once Sonny Perdue’s deputy chief of staff.

But Kingston outdid her. “(David Perdue) is telling everybody, ‘I can fix the problems in Washington,’ and yet as CEO of Pillowtex, he bankrupted the company,” he said. “Those 8,000 people will be coming out of the woodwork, probably to run ads for the Democrats if he is the nominee.”

Kingston followed up his TV attack with a mailbox flier, sent to thousands of households, showing Democrats how it might be done by depicting Perdue in a golden parachute. Perdue has spent the past few days explaining the ins and outs of a North Carolina textile manufacturer’s 2003 bankruptcy.

In politics, explaining is never good. “These people making these attacks have never really run a public business, a big business. They knew this company was already in bankruptcy when I was called out there to help,” Perdue said in a Wednesday radio interview.

The parallels with 2012 are spooky.

That January, tea party forces in South Carolina gave Gingrich a somewhat unexpected comeback after a thrashing in Iowa.

Florida loomed as a final showdown between the former U.S. House speaker, who had been a part of the GOP furniture since the 1970s, and the man identified by Republican leadership as the candidate most likely to appeal to the independents required to topple an incumbent Democratic president.

It was an opportunity to rediscover the populist, blue-collar side of the Republican Party.

“We’re not going to beat Barack Obama with some guy who has Swiss bank accounts, Cayman Island accounts, owns shares of Goldman Sachs that forecloses on Florida, and is himself a stockholder in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — while he thinks the rest of us are too stupid to put the dots together and understand what this is all about,” the ever-verbose Gingrich thundered.

In reply, Romney declared that Gingrich’s past tenure in Congress made him unelectable. Not unlike Perdue’s contention that his rivals’ lengthy political resumes would make them November pariahs.

Gingrey spanked Romney, when as a Massachusetts resident, he supported U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas, a Democrat. Just as Kingston this week criticized Perdue, when as a Massachusetts resident, he contributed to the campaign of U.S. Rep. Joe Moakley, a Democrat.

Gingrich derided Romney as a “moneymaking independent” who for a long period showed no interest in politics. “He wasn’t involved in helping save the country,” the former Georgia congressman said.

Kingston likewise has portrayed the Georgia-born Perdue as a rootless newcomer in a political club that prizes dues-paying. “How could you not vote in a Republican (general) primary and be active in conservative causes?” the Savannah congressman asked.

We even have a class-conscious video parallel. Romney’s secretly recorded explanation of why 47 percent of Americans were too addicted to the dole to vote Republican has been matched by a video from Perdue — slighting Handel’s lack of a college education.

But in the end, Romney crushed Gingrich in Florida. In part because many Republicans balk at demonizing economic success — but primarily because Romney held an insurmountable financial advantage.

In April, Perdue put an additional $1 million behind his candidacy — increasing his personal contribution to his race to more than $2.6 million.

On the other hand, several weeks after that 2012 Florida primary, Gingrich took Georgia.

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes the remake is more exciting than the original.

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About the Author

Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.