Senate race: It will be a David Perdue-Jack Kingston runoff

His runoff foe was not yet known, but David Perdue already had an epithet for him or her.

“You know one thing we did do tonight," Perdue told his cheering supporters in Buckhead. "We retired three career politicians. And we’ve got one more to go.”

It will be Rep. Jack Kingston, the 11-term Congressman who had buckets full of money and establishment support to overcome a regional disadvantage and the baggage of his lengthy political career.

“I think it’s going to be a tough race,” Kingston said. “He’s a guy that has very deep pockets and he’s put in $3 million to $4 million already. He’s got his cousin (former Gov. Sonny Perdue) running the campaign and it’s a well-oiled machine.”

It was a long night -- the final verdict from AP coming after 11:30 p.m. -- and former Secretary of State Karen Handel made a special trip to see her supporters in Roswell and declare it ain't over til it's over.

Handel returned to the ballroom at the Roswell Doubletree shortly before midnight.

“There’s no shame in doing this will with how little we had to start with,” she said to fewer than 30 supporters.

There are now two candidates left, and she called on her supporters to “pick whichever one you feel you can rally around in the runoff.”

The key, Handel said, was to beat Democrat Michelle Nunn in November.

“We cannot give Harry Reid another vote in the Senate.”

Asked afterward if that was a concession speech, Handel hedged and said all the votes weren’t counted yet. But her tone – and her words – left little doubt.

The other top-tier candidates tossed in the towel earlier in the evening.

"I haven't had to do that in 20 years, but you're always just one away," Gingrey said. The Marietta congressman said he would support the eventual GOP nominee, but also said he "probably" would not make an endorsement in the runoff. "It just won't be me, and I'm disappointed."

“Well it didn’t work out,” Broun said walking to the stage to thank his supporters.

He said, “If God opens a door for a campaign in the future, I’ll be ready. After all I’m a Marine.”

He thanked his wife, referring to their vows of loving each other for better and worse.

“Tonight it seems like the worse category,” he said.

He declined to endorse any other candidate at this time

“We just didn’t get our vote out,” he said.

He said winning was a matter of money.

“You had two candidates that had a lot of money and they did a lot of ads, and that got them there today,” he said. “It’s all name recognition and TV ads.”

He spoke to about 35 supporters.

***

Among the cavalcade of statements on the results came this from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. After backing Kingston with nearly $1 million in TV ads during the primary, political director Rob Engstrom said more was coming for the runoff:

“We congratulate Jack Kingston on advancing to the runoff in the Senate Republican primary. The U.S. Chamber’s messages highlighting Jack’s record on jobs and growth clearly resonated with voters, and the Chamber is proud to support him as the pro-business candidate in this race. We will continue to be active in Georgia because Kingston is the clear choice on issues that will get Georgia and the country back to work.”

***

U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey made a first appearance at 7:45 p.m. at an open-air pizza parlor off the Marietta Square. He was upbeat, but there were hints of resignation in the air.

“I tell you what. There’s no losing when you’ve got a grandchild like this,” the congressman said as he clutched little Ley-Ley Collin in his arms.

Afterwards, Gingrey said he felt that he had left no stone unturned in his quest to cap a political career that started on the Marietta school board with a stint in the U.S. Senate:

“We have worked hard, and run through the tape as the old expression goes, and left nothing to chance. We have spent all our money. We’re ready for some manna from heaven for the runoff. I didn’t want to end this thing and come up short with money in the bank.”

Gingrey acknowledged that he concentrated much of his cash and energy on his own 11th District that spreads northwest of Atlanta. “We knew where our strength was,” he said.

Gingrey then left for his nearby campaign office to wait for some hard numbers.

***

J. Scott Trubey reports from Kingston-land:

U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston’s pursuit of the next high office coincided Tuesday with a critical project the Savannah Republican has pursued for almost his entire congressional career – deepening of the his home city’s port.

Kingston started his day in Washington, D.C., for an important vote on a water bill pivotal to whether or not the state’s fast growing port gets deeper and will eventually be able to accommodate bigger ships.

Instead of stumping for votes all day to advance to the November general election, Kingston was on Capitol Hill for what he said was one of the biggest votes of his career.

“It’s an infrastructure project I’ve worked on 14 years and I wasn’t about to let that vote get done without me being there and speaking about it,” Kingston said Tuesday night.  “I was very happy to go to Washington to cast the vote.”

The bill passed the House and Kingston said the project should move forward in time for the next dredging season.

“A lot of members of the house were saying, ‘what are you doing here?’” he said. “I would not have missed it. That, in terms of my congressional career, is probably a Top Five vote that I’ve ever taken.”

The project is a priority for the state, and Gov. Nathan Deal has socked away about $366 million to fund a portion of the complicated project.

Kingston, who voted last week for the primary, did make it back in time to stump along Roswell Road.

“We feel good about it,” he said of the race. “We worked really hard. We put a great team together and a lot of good volunteers and we feel like that’s going to show in the results (tonight).”

Kingston addressed supporters about 9:40 p.m.:

 “We are very proud of where we are in this race right now. But I want to say this, it’s going to be a very long night. We have good returns at the moment, but we also know we are up against a very tough machine and that the numbers in terms of Atlanta and some of the jumbo metro counties have not been fully reported yet and so we are going to be watching them going down to the wire.

 “As you know, the whole object here is to finish second or first. And we are on the path to do that. We fell very good about the position we are in. Tonight we hope that as the hours unfold and as the numbers reveal themselves that you and I will continue to celebrate. But I want you to know, eight in the morning we’ll start all over again. Don’t stay out too late.

“With that I want to say thank you very much it’s been an outstanding year."

***

At the David Perdue party in Buckhead, the candidate mingled and the staff expressed confidence in the early numbers -- which mostly favored Kingston in South Georgia.

"We're coming in second in Jack's district, which is what we wanted to do," said spokesman Derrick Dickey.

The soundtrack was big-band swing, but no one was dancing yet.

***

From Aaron Gould Sheinin:

In Roswell, Karen Handel shook hands and greeted supporters as votes were trickling in. She told reporters that she wasn’t watching returns closely but was confident.

“We put out our projections to see what we want to have,” she said. “We’re watching those and really don’t have enough of those in yet to draw any conclusions whatsoever.”

She felt sure about her get-out-the-vote efforts.

“It’s all about getting my supporters to the polls and I know we’ve done a really good job at that,” she said.

Former state GOP chairwoman Sue Everhart, a major Handel supporter, lamented Perdue’s apparent lead.

“I am really concerned about Georgia voters,” Everhart said. “I am amazed that Georgia voters are so uninformed that a group of good consultants can get together and somebody – we couldn’t even tell you what kind of car he drives, what kind of house he lives in. If we didn’t see him on TV, we couldn’t tell what he looked like.”

Those consultants, Everhart said, “have taken money and a piece of clay and made a candidate. And we’re going to possibly put him in office. It just tells me the Georgia voters are not looking at who they’re voting for.”

State Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, another big Handel backer, said a low-turnout election – as this is expected to be – should benefit his candidate.

“In a low turnout election the people that turnout are the folks who are motivated,” McKoon said. “It would be hard for anybody to argue with the premise that Karen has the most committed and largest group of grassroots support around the state.”

***

From Craig Schneider

Rep. Paul Broun said low turnout would favor him, believing his supporters are extremely motivated.

“I believe our voters will come to the polls,” he said.

He rejected the idea that it was difficult to run being a member of Congress, given the public’s distaste toward that body. Instead, he portrayed himself as an outsider of the Washington establishment. He said he was the only one of the top contenders who was not establishment.

“I’ve been fighting out of control spending. I’m the ultimate fighter for changing things in Washington,” he said.

He said he represents the “pro-life, pro-gun, Ron Paul supporting, constitutional voter.”

Still, the mood was quiet among the 35 people who showed up to support him in Duluth.

Supporter Cham Dallas of Madison County said Broun is a populist candidate, running without high-power money behind him.

“If he would get into a runoff, it would be a real function of people-power,” Dallas said.

***

From Ariel Hart

Joined on the stage by volunteers from her campaign and her organization Points of Light, Michelle Nunn offered a victory speech heavy on Washington dysfunction, and her ability as an outsider to address it.  "Tonight we send a signal to Washington that we want something different," she said. "We want civility, we want collaboration, we want problem solving."

Though her opponent was yet unknown, she said, the candidates were embroiled in "acrimony" and inflexibility, which she asserted were not "Georgia values" -- then citing the Georgia state motto of "wisdom, justice, moderation" to raucous cheers.

Just as the campaign is playing her lack of political experience as a virtue, so speakers several times used the word "historic" to describe the campaign and brought Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin on to introduce her -- Campaign Chairman Gordon Griffin emphasizing Franklin's "historic" victory becoming Atlanta mayor as a woman.

State Rep. Calvin Smyre stood back from the stage, saying afterward that "I think she's great."  Smyre, who was a youth advisor on her father's 1972 campaign, said the Nunn name recognition was bolstered by her pragmatism and political skills, and this year they wouldn't go to waste:  "I think the temperature's right."

Alpharetta resident and Lifelong Georgian Chelsea Ashworth, 21, was all smiles at Nunn's watch party.  "I'm super excited really and keeping my fingers crossed," said Ashworth, a rising senior at Georgia Tech.  "It feels wonderful to actually have some promise" for a Democratic Georgia candidate, she said.  "I think it's nice to know Georgia still has promise to have a nice balance between both parties."

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed came by Nunn’s victory party and hit the woman theme too.  “I think that if they run their traditional male playbook against a person of Michelle's skill and character than they're going to encounter real problems,” Reed said.

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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.
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