In a political upset, Congressman Jack Kingston lost the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate Tuesday night to millionaire businessman David Perdue.
The Savannah representative gave up the seat he’s held in Congress for 22 years to run for U.S. Senate in a bid to help the GOP win back control of that chamber. What’s more, he won the backing of nearly all prominent Republicans in Georgia.
But it wasn’t enough to stem a tide of anti-Washington fervor that’s tarred Republicans as much as Democrats. Kingston said the race is about more than who represents Georgia in the Senate.
“The battle for America is so much bigger than David Perdue or Jack Kingston,” the congressman said in his concession speech. “It’s about taking over the U.S. Senate.
Perdue now faces Democrat Michelle Nunn. Her father is former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn. Perdue and Nunn are vying for the seat Senator Saxby Chambliss will vacate later this year when he retires.
Republicans Stunned, But Not Completely
Many Republicans admitted they were stunned by the results, even if they knew Kingston wasn’t going to walk away with the nomination after such a contentious primary race in May.
“We knew it was going to be close,” said Kingston supporter and Republican state Representative Ed Lindsey of Atlanta. “And not only that, but we had exceptionally low turnout. And at that point, you could toss out the window all the polls you’d have seen because with that low a turnout, it was a toss-up.”
Kingston and Perdue have been criss-crossing the state after surviving a large Republican primary field that included fellow congressmen Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey. And they’ve each argued that ending Washington gridlock depends on Republicans regaining control of the U.S. Senate.
While Perdue had the most votes in the primary, most prominent Republicans and GOP-leaning organizations have supported Kingston, including the U.S. Chamber, and former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. And since losing the state GOP primary in May, Karen Handel has been stumping on behalf of Kingston, her former opponent. She’s said that the Democrats will have a field day campaigning against Perdue.
A Victory For A “Non Career” Politician
Perdue is a wealthy business executive and political newcomer. He’s also a cousin of former Governor Sonny Perdue. Perdue rebuffed any notion that Kingston – who’s served so long in Congress -- is the answer to the problems in Washington. Instead he campaigned on the idea that Kingston was too accommodating of Democrats, and wasn’t a true conservative.
But that left Perdue struggling to pick up endorsements among the GOP base. Indeed, Joe Wilkinson ,who serves in the state House, took issue with Perdue’s attacks on people who have served in public office for long periods of time.
“No, we are not career politicians,” said Wilkinson, whose district includes Sandy Springs, at Kingston’s party. “We are public servants. We are there for the people.”
A number of GOP elected officials also didn’t find Perdue very accessible. State Senator Bruce Thompson, who represents Cobb and Cherokee Counties, said Kingston is experienced at making time for constituents and others.
“I would say I have been able to spend enough time with Jack to actually see actions speak louder than words,” Thompson said at Kingston’s primary runoff party. “All I can do is really read about what’s happened with David.”
Taking On Nunn, A Formidable Opponent
Thompson said Perdue may be too accustomed to the corporate world where he doesn’t have to mix with the rank-and-file. He also said Kingston has a record of results that would have helped him against Nunn.
“She’s a legitimate campaigner,” he said. “She has a strong lineage. She is a very likable individual. I would say she comes across as more of a moderate so she is a formidable campaigner and a formidable opponent to anyone.”
Wilkinson said Sam Nunn, Michelle Nunn's father, is one of his heroes. But he said his daughter has a different philosophy.
“It will be interesting to see what Michelle Nunn will do,” he said. “Will she run away from Obama? How?”
Voters, beyond the hard-core GOP primary voters, don’t appear to be paying much attention to the election--that’s despite some top races on the ticket. In addition to the U.S. Senate race, Gov. Nathan Deal is facing a serious challenge from state Senator Jason Carter.
Kingston, for his part, said there should be no doubt about whether he will back Perdue in the Senate contest.
“I’m on David’s team,” he said.