In politics, nothing succeeds like success. And when a party primary leads to a run-off, the losers generally line up behind the candidate who got the most votes in round one.
Not so in the race for Georgia's open U.S. Senate seat.
On the GOP side, losing candidates like Phil Gingrey and Karen Handel, establishment Republican figures like Newt Gingrich, and even Tea Partyers are backing Congressman Jack Kingston, even though he came in five points behind businessman David Perdue in the May 20 primary.
The winner of the July 22 runoff will face Democrat Michelle Nunn.
Widespread Republican support for Kingston is likely the result of familiarity with the 11-term U.S. House member, said Chris Grant, a political science professor at Mercer University.
“They know him, they have a trust level with him,” Grant said of the politicians who have served with Kingston in congress and before that in Georgia’s General Assembly. “I think a lot of these folks have seen Kingston as a reliable ally, someone they owe some favors to, and right now he’s cashing in on them.”
A counterintuitive advantage that Kingston has over Perdue, Grant said, is that Kingston’s use of favors to get endorsements and contributions means that he will owe supporters favors if he makes it to the Senate.
David Perdue, in contrast, is independently wealthy and is largely self-financing his campaign. “When you’re a self-funded candidate, you don’t necessarily owe any favors, and that can scare people,” Grant said.
Grant thinks the results of the May 20 primary, in which Perdue won 30.64 percent of votes to Kingston’s 25.8 percent, may be deceiving.
“In the first round of the primary, everyone who wanted to go outside of the establishment rallied around David Perdue, leaving everyone, in essence, voting for inside the establishment candidates,” Grant said.
Whereas that “insider” vote was split between several familiar candidates in May, it could go squarely for Kingston on the 22nd, Grant said, thus overpowering Perdue’s minority “outsider” support.
As always, the result will hinge on turnout.
“I think Kingston has the organizational ability to turnout votes,” Grant said, “but enthusiasm may be on Perdue’s side, so the run-off could go a different way.”