The race for Georgia’s open U.S. Senate has been costly. And not just in dollars. One veteran Senator – Saxby Chambliss – is retiring. And three sitting Congressmen will leave Washington at the end of this year because they gave up those posts to run for Chambliss’s seat. That’s a whole lot of Washington know-how. All were card-carrying Georgia fiscal conservatives, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t bring funding back to their districts.
When Chambliss announced he would retire last year, it set off a scramble among Republicans in Georgia who wanted to replace him.
Congressmen Phil Gingrey, Jack Kingston and Paul Broun all threw their hats in the ring. Kingston lasted the longest. But last week, the 11-term Congressman lost a primary runoff race to businessman David Perdue.
It came as a shock to Georgia’s GOP establishment, which all backed Kingston. And not just because he was their guy.
“Jack Kingston’s been getting it done,” said Atlanta attorney Brad Carver, who attended Kingston’s primary runoff party.
Carver says he’s been in the military for 23 years, and that’s given him a great opportunity to observe Kingston.
“He’s done a great job of taking care of his district, taking care of our military bases,” he said. “He’s protected every army base in his district and Moody Air Force base in Valdosta.”
In other words, earmarks and protecting jobs. Kingston was able to bring home so much bacon because he worked his way up to a senior post on the budget committee.
Charles Bullock, a political scientist at the University of Georgia, says earmark is now a dirty word for Republicans in Georgia. But most of them want Washington to fund the Savannah Harbor expansion.
Kingston has heavily lobbied the Obama administration and its predecessors on the project, which would allow for larger ships which will soon start coming from the Panama Canal. So far, the money hasn’t come through.
“It would be helpful for Georgia, especially in light of the concern about the dredging of the harbor in Savannah, which will probably wind up costing more than anyone expects, to have a senior appropriator there to be able to use his or her influence to help secure that funding,” he said.
Some are cheering the exit of incumbents, given the anti-Washington fervor alive Georgia. But Bullock says Kingston holds senior positions on budget committees, and that’s meant a lot to Georgia. Replacing him won’t happen overnight.
“It took Kingston well over a decade to work his way up to become an appropriations subcommittee chair so there will not be a person there to look out for efforts to get funding in Georgia,” he said.
Then there's political know-how, which Kingston and Chambliss have acquired during their years in Washington.
Gwinnett County developer Emory Morsberger also attended Kingston’s election results party last week. He expressed concerns about battle cry against career politicians in Washington, saying there’s another side.
"There are some who are against somebody from Washington," he said. "There are other people who want someone who knows what they’re doing in Washington.”
Perdue, the GOP nominee, will face Democrat Michelle Nunn in the general election. Both portray themselves as fiscal conservatives. And Bullock, at UGA, says that might wind up costing Georgia a lot.