David Perdue draws on family ties for U.S. Senate bid

Perdue’s cousin, ex-Gov. Sonny Perdue, providing manpower, donors.

U.S. Senate hopeful David Perdue has a famous name and a staff and group of supporters who were also part of the administration of his cousin, Gov. Sonny Perdue. Among those with ties to Gov. Perdue on David Perdue’s team, or among his contributors:

  • Paul Bennecke, Perdue's political director
  • Derrick Dickey, Perdue's campaign spokesman
  • John Watson, Perdue's chief-of-staff
  • Jim Lientz, Perdue's chief operating officer
  • Heidi Green, Perdue's director of intergovernmental affairs, deputy economic development commissioner, business partner
  • Johnny Hunt, Perdue's pastor
  • James Cole, Perdue's legislative floor leader
  • Jimmy Braswell, Perdue appointee to Georgia Lottery Board, serving as chairman
  • Josh Belinfante, Perdue's executive counsel
  • Alec Poitevint, Republican party chairman, Perdue campaign chairman, appointee to the Georgia Ports Authority
  • Roy Fickling, Perdue appointee to the Georgai Ports Authority
  • Robert Jepson, Perdue appointee to the Georgia Ports Authority
  • Sunny Park, Perdue appointee to the Georgia Ports Authority
  • James S. Balloun, Perdue appointee to the Georgia Ports Authority
  • James E. Bostic, Perdue appointee to the Georgia Board of Education
  • Dwight J. Davis, Perdue appointee to the Georgia Department of Naural Resources board
  • Erroll Davis, Perdue's choice to run the University System of Georgia as chancellor
  • Joseph B. Doyle, Perdue's head of consumer affairs, state personnel administration

Log on to MyAJC.com, our premium website for subscribers, for up to the minute coverage of the Georgia primary runoff and stories about the candidates.

Log on to MyAJC.com, our premium website for subscribers, for up to the minute coverage of the Georgia primary runoff and stories about the candidates.

Log on to MyAJC.com, our premium website for subscribers, for up to the minute coverage of the Georgia primary runoff and stories about the candidates.

Log on to MyAJC.com, our premium website for subscribers, for up to the minute coverage of the Georgia primary runoff and stories about the candidates.

Log on to MyAJC.com, our premium website for subscribers, for up to the minute coverage of the Georgia primary runoff and stories about the candidates.

Businessman David Perdue is running for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate as a political outsider, but his campaign is being run and heavily funded by the same highly successful political machine that backed his cousin’s ascent to power in Georgia.

Former Gov. Sonny Perdue’s campaign political director and press spokesman are helping to run David Perdue’s campaign. The candidate, campaigning hard against veteran Rep. Jack Kingston in a July 22 runoff, is using the same ad producer as his cousin. The campaign treasurer is a Perdue appointee who ran the state lottery board.

His campaign headquarters are in the same building Sonny Perdue’s campaign used, upstairs from the cousins’ business.

And his bid is heavily fueled from campaign dollars from Sonny Perdue loyalists. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of campaign donations showed that by the end of April, David Perdue had raised more than $450,000 — more than a third of his contributions from outside sources — from donors connected to Sonny Perdue, including some of the former governor’s top lieutenants and numerous board appointees.

“This isn’t Mr. Smith goes to Washington,” said Chuck Clay, a former state GOP chairman and lawmaker. “This is kind of a proxy fight between the Washington political machinery and state political machinery.”

But John Watson, the ex-governor’s chief of staff, said Perdue has earned his spot in the runoff against Kingston on more than his famous name and politically savvy followers.

“I think that the Perdue name and network was a foundation for David that gave him an initial level of credibility,” Watson said. “That in itself is not going to make him successful.”

Don Cole, a Cordele volunteer who worked on Sonny Perdue’s campaigns and is helping his cousin, said, “The thing that impresses me about David is the same thing that impressed me about Sonny. They didn’t have any option, they had to run because they were called to run. They didn’t need it but they felt like somebody had to step up.”

Unlike Kingston, who has served more than two decades in Congress, Perdue made his name and a considerable fortune in the boardroom, serving as chief executive of Reebok, Dollar General and the now-defunct Pillowtex. He’s plowed about $3 million of his own money and resources into his campaign.

He grew up in Middle Georgia, the son of two schoolteachers. He also grew up around local politics, with his father becoming a well-respected local school superintendent. But when his cousin won election as the state’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction in 2002, Perdue was running a financially troubled North Carolina textile company that folded shortly after he left. He contributed $3,000 to his cousin’s first gubernatorial campaign, but even some members of Sonny Perdue’s close team never met him.

When Sonny Perdue upset Gov. Roy Barnes, he quickly used his appointment powers to make sweeping changes in the people running state agencies and oversight boards.

As is the case of most governors, many of those board positions went to political backers, some of whom are now supporting his cousin, David.

Included are several donors the ex-governor appointed to the Georgia Ports Authority board. They met David Perdue when the governor appointed his cousin to the board six months before he left office. The ex-governor’s appointees had contributed about $30,000 to David Perdue’s campaign as of the end of April.

He also has support from Erroll Davis, whom the ex-governor successfully backed to become chancellor of the University System of Georgia in 2005. Davis had been CEO and board chairman of the Wisconsin-based Alliant Energy board. David Perdue served with Davis, and his former colleague contributed $2,500 to his U.S. Senate campaign.

Campaign stacked with Gov. Perdue supporters

But the connections go beyond money.

Derrick Dickey worked in communications for Sonny Perdue’s 2002 campaign, and later became a press aide both for his gubernatorial office and his re-election campaign. He is serving in the same role, as a consultant, for David Perdue.

Paul Bennecke was political director for Sonny Perdue’s campaign, and he is a consultant on David Perdue’s campaign.

Fred Davis, who produced Sonny Perdue’s most memorable political ads, is doing the same for David Perdue.

Many of those on David Perdue’s exploratory committee were part of the ex-governor’s team and supporters.

When Perdue was thinking about running for the Senate, his cousin called and emailed members of his team and supporters.

Watson got a call asking him to talk to Perdue about what running a statewide race entails. Watson knew of the ex-governor’s cousin, but didn’t know him well.

“I went in there to talk him out of it, and I came away thinking he should run for U.S. Senate,” said Watson. “To a certain extent, I am a sucker for a Perdue candidacy.”

Watson said it’s a major benefit that David Perdue is surrounded by so many members of his cousin’s team, a group of political veterans that won two statewide campaigns: the first as a distinct underdog, the second as a battle-tested, popular incumbent.

Alec Poitevint, a Sonny Perdue campaign and state GOP chairman, said it’s natural that the state’s first Republican governor in more than 100 years engendered loyalty among staff and supporters.

That has helped David Perdue in his campaign, “but the truth of the matter is David has gone out there and made his own case.

“We all sit around complaining about why good people without an agenda don’t run for office,” he said. “This guy is genuinely qualified and the kind of person we need to be U.S. senator and I am going to do everything I can can to help him.”

Poitevint and his wife, Doreen, who Sonny Perdue appointed to the University System Board of Regents in 2004, had contributed $5,000 to David Perdue’s campaign by the end of April.

Dickey said he’d never met David Perdue before supporters called him to a meeting with the candidate as he was considering a run. Some of David Perdue’s financial backers didn’t meet him until the ex-governor invited them to a fundraiser.

Kingston, meanwhile, has been on the wrong end of the “insider” vs “outsider” debate in a year in which “insider” is a pejorative. His campaign considers Perdue a faux outsider.

“David Perdue is the ultimate insider who lined his own pocket with Obama’s stimulus, took a sweetheart appointment to the Georgia Ports Authority only to launch a trade company a few months later, got a $3.4 million golden parachute for himself while laying off 7,650 workers, and has ‘no problem with’ a federal takeover of our schools,” said Chris Crawford, Kingston’s spokesman.

Clay, the former state GOP chairman, said without the Perdue name and backing, “you wonder if he is in the position he is in right now; I doubt it.”

A candidate ultimately still has to sell himself to voters, he said, but the “golden name” in Republican circles doesn’t hurt.

“Sonny Perdue left office with about as high a favorable rating as anybody I was aware of,” Clay said. “When he left office, if he could have run for a third term, he would have won handily. I think there is a significant amount that is attached to the name.”

David Perdue, he added, “Is somebody who did not start at the starting line of his political education when he signed up. The idea that this is Mr. Smith that nobody ever heard of …. he started way up on the political food chain in terms of his own politically savvy backers.”