Outsourcing, Obama top topics in heated U.S. Senate debate

Senate and gubernatorial candidate supporters get loud during the debates in Perry.

Democrat Michelle Nunn wants to make Georgia’s heated U.S. Senate race about Republican David Perdue and his career in outsourcing.

Perdue wants to make it about President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and their ties to Nunn.

In a debate at the Georgia National Fair on Tuesday night, the pair repeatedly tried to steer the conversation to their divergent themes. Libertarian candidate Amanda Swafford, meanwhile, sought to separate herself from the parties’ bickering.

Nunn's ammunition: A recently revealed 2005 deposition in a bankruptcy case for North Carolina textile maker Pillowtex in which Perdue had said he spent "most of his career" in outsourcing.

Perdue's weapon: Obama's comment last week that even though he's not on the ballot this fall, "These policies are on the ballot. Every single one of them."

The faceoff took place before a raucous crowd of thousands who volleyed chants back and forth. Both candidates claim Houston County roots — and both bused in supporters from across the state — but Perdue and the Republicans had a numerical and vocal advantage.

Perdue's deposition was made public in a story by Washington news outlet Politico on Friday. On Monday, Perdue said he was "proud" of his outsourcing career — a remark Democrats pounced on.

Tuesday night, he elaborated by saying: “I’m proud of creating and saving real jobs. Michelle Nunn’s false attack won’t change that.”

Nunn had a zinger ready: “David in his deposition talked about all these countries — Thailand and Singapore and India and Pakistan — but not once did he talk about creating jobs in the United States.”

Perdue time and again used his answers to hit “the failed policies of this administration.”

“In fact, I don’t think he recognizes he’s not running against Harry Reid,” Nunn said as her backers erupted in cheers. “He’s running against me.”

Perdue shot back, as his own backers cheered him on: “Michelle, I respect you, but you’re dead wrong. I am absolutely running against Barack Obama and Harry Reid. … You will not bite the hand that feeds you.”

Swafford, who could serve as a spoiler throwing the race into a January runoff, would not say whether she would caucus with Democrats or Republicans if she wins the race — as she contends both have failed to deliver.

“It makes no difference which party controls Washington because both parties have controlled us for decades,” Swafford said. “It’s time we get serious about electing a candidate for U.S. Senate who understands the power of the individual lies with true liberty.”

Asked about America’s deepening conflict with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Perdue said he wanted more from Obama.

“When we put boots on the ground, we better give them a chance to win,” Perdue said. “And we don’t have that right now.”

Nunn said Congress should authorize a “long-term engagement,” and she used the question to take a whack at Perdue for not supporting airstrikes in Syria a year ago. Nunn sided with Obama and the state’s two Republican U.S. senators to bomb Bashar al-Assad’s government forces after evidence surfaced that Assad had deployed chemical weapons, but Obama backtracked amid opposition in Congress.

Nunn took heat in the Democratic primary for the hawkish position but deployed it Tuesday night as an example of an unpopular stance that looks better in retrospect. Perdue attacked Obama again for indecision.

“He had no plan then and he has no plan now,” Perdue said.

Perdue sought to tie ISIS to the nation's immigration debate, which also was the subject of a controversial television ad. (He did not bring up the ad's most incendiary accusation of a link between Nunn's Points of Light Foundation and terrorists.)

Of the U.S. Senate’s immigration bill, which Nunn supports, Perdue said: “It gave the Department of Homeland Security discretion about securing our border. Now with ISIS we see that that’s not acceptable.”

Nunn said the immigration bill — backed by key Republicans such as U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and John McCain of Arizona — was an example of a bipartisan initiative that she supports and Perdue does not, along with the Farm Bill. She contrasted her pledge to “work pragmatically” with Perdue’s “prosecuting and attacking the other side.”

Perdue said that vow does not hold water because of how Senate Democrats currently run the place.

“I don’t know about y’all,” Perdue said, “but I’m getting a little bored hearing this ‘I’m going to work across the aisle,’ when nobody on the Democratic side has decided to work across the aisle with Republicans.”