In U.S. Senate runoff, the Chamber takes it on the chin

David Perdue’s decision to target the U.S. Chamber in the final days of his GOP Senate runoff was more a page torn from the family playbook than an act of desperation.

In 2002, upstart Sonny Perdue was shocked, baffled and outraged by the fact that a national political group known for reflexively endorsing Republicans instead decided to side with Democratic incumbent Gov. Roy Barnes.

When Perdue won, overturning the political status quo, the NRA found itself sitting in time-out.

Flash forward a dozen years. Sonny Perdue’s cousin David found himself on the outs with another national organization that he thought should have been well-satisfied with his business background.

Instead, the U.S. Chamber backed U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, who – after 22 years in D.C. – was a known commodity. The group poured $2.3 million into the race against Perdue – the most of any outside group dipping into the contest. A group flush from having its way in Mississippi last month, carrying U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran across the finish line.

Like his cousin before him, David Perdue began campaigning against the Chamber as one of those special interest groups in Washington that need to be reined in. He began talking about the need to reduce legal immigration into the U.S., a key Chamber concern. In a last round of TV ads, Perdue used the Chamber endorsement to question whether Kingston’s opposition to immigration reform was indeed sincere.

The Tweet of the night may have come from Kingston supporter Erick Erickson, the conservative talk radio host:

Was able to convince A LOT of people to back candidates I was supporting, but the Chamber of Commerce endorsement of Kingston hurt him badly

Outside of Jack Kingston himself, the U.S. Chamber became the biggest loser of the evening.


Second runner-up may be Karen Handel, an ex-protégée of former Gov. Sonny Perdue. Handel, the former secretary of state, was already on the outs with Nathan Deal because of their 2010 gubernatorial runoff. Now her extraordinary runoff work for Jack Kingston has gone for naught.


A relax and rested Michelle Nunn made a campaign stop at the Silver Skillet Cafe on 14th Street in Atlanta this morning. We'll add details in a few, but in the meantime, Dan Malloy sends this:


Here's the greeting Democrat Michelle Nunn received last night from Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee:

Overall, it was a rough night for business interests. Republican state Sen. Buddy Carter of Pooler, a Chamber-backed candidate, won his GOP primary and is on track to replace U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston in D.C.

But Richard Woods, the Republican anti-Common Core candidate, appears to have beaten Mike Buck, who backed the initiative in the race for state school superintendent. Common Core has been a priority of both the U.S. Chamber and the Georgia Chamber. Valarie Wilson of DeKalb County, former head of the Georgia School Boards Association, beat Alisha Thomas Morgan on the Democratic side.

Another business-backed candidate, state Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, was trounced by Mike Williams, who won 66 percent of the vote -- a defeat for the business-financed Georgia Coalition for Job Growth.


Nice observation from Dale Russell over in the WAGA television shop:


Fred Davis, the West Coast designer of the "baby" TV ads that made David Perdue an early contender in the Republican race for U.S. Senate, sent word that he was required to watch the race from afar: "At Lady GAGA concert with my granddaughter in LA. Was hard to concentrate with the votes slowly coming in."


Former state House Republican leader Bob Irvin emailed this morning to note the continuation of a frustrating coastal trend: Jack Kingston's defeat, Irvin says, "extends the drought of someone from Savannah winning a statewide race. That last time that happened, I believe, was 1845."


Given that we now have a U.S. Senate race that includes two candidates with roots in Houston County, Michael Andel, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. David Scott and a former Perryian, sends this link for tourists. He recommends both the Sam Nunn Museum and the Go Fish monument to angling (established by then Gov. Sonny Perdue).

Turnout in Georgia’s Tuesday night runoffs apparently crept into the double digits last night – rising to about 12.5 percent. According to Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s website this morning, 482,913 votes were cast in the Republican runoff for U.S. Senate. But 85,125 fewer GOP voters made a choice in the race for school superintendent.

Top attraction on the Democratic side was the state school superintendent race, which drew 135,315 ballots. Total registered voters in Georgia: 4,933,572.


The defeat of Jack Kingston in the U.S. Senate runoff has clearly thrown Georgia's GOP establishment for a loop. Phil Wilheit Jr., the co-chairman of the Kingston campaign, hails from the same Wilheit family in Hall County that has supported Gov. Nathan Deal over the years.

Kingston was able to boast of endorsement after GOP endorsement in the contest. One sign of Republican concern over last night's result: Perdue and Deal, who personally stayed out of the race, will gather this morning for a joint news conference.

When asked how he would entice Kingston's coalition - a web of elected officials and tea party types - into his fold, Perdue said he would appeal to the core of the GOP message: Economic opportunity, fiscal responsibility and limited government. And target that message squarely at Democrat Michelle Nunn.

Said Perdue:

"We all agree we have too much debt, that we need to get the economy going. The differences are where the Democrats are at. My role right now is to make sure we approach everybody in the Republican Party and harness all our resources to go after the other agenda."

He is also signaling a pivot away from the outsider message that powered him to a first place spot in the May primary and last night's victory. Instead, look for Perdue to tie Nunn to President Barack Obama, who polls poorly among Republicans and many independents, at every turn. On Tuesday, Perdue's message was that Democrats under Obama have a "failed record."

"She's an outsider and I'm an outsider. Now we get to talk about the failed policies of this administration and really talk about the options we have as a country. There are two clear choices. more taxes, less taxes. More growth, less growth. Obamacare or a better healthcare system. Those are opportunities that we are going to have to prosecute their record and talk about alternative solutions."


As it became clear that David Perdue would triumph over Jack Kingston, some talk on Twitter turned to John McLaughlin, Kingston’s pollster who was way off on Eric Cantor’s primary loss. Could this be another blunder to add to his resume?

This choice tweet from Matt McGrath, Jason Carter's campaign manager, caught the eye of many a politico:

Kingston campaign manager Chris Crawford stuck by McLaughlin's work and said his internal polls for the campaign showed a neck-and-neck race.

“I would stand by John’s numbers,” Crawford said. “I think he did a good job.”

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.