These various file photos show, top row, from left, Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., and Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., and bottom row, from left, former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel and Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., all candidates for the U.S. Senate seat of the retiring U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss. The ninth district will be at the center of next year’s Republican fight for an open U.S. Senate seat.Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
On Wednesday, mainstream media pundits will note how poorly so-called tea party candidates did in various primaries across the country, including in Georgia.
In Georgia, as elsewhere, they will have missed the point.
The Peach State is trying to keep a Republican in the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss. Each of the five main Republican candidates in Tuesday’s primary is conservative, some more than others. Any would fit the image of the fiscally responsible, low-tax candidate the tea party revolt put forward in the midterm elections of 2010.
The two candidates most often associated with tea party groups, six-term U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, an OB/GYN, and four-term U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, an Athens doctor, are running fourth and fifth in the race.
Ahead of them, their position in the race depending on the poll you believe, are David Perdue, a former Dollar General chief executive officer, U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston and former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel.
Most polls have Perdue enlarging his lead, but he won’t come anywhere near a majority, triggering a runoff between the top two finishers on July 22.
Here’s a bit about each of the top candidates:
• Perdue, 64, a Georgia native and Georgia Tech graduate who has never held public office, has headed a management consulting firm and been a business executive with companies such as Reebok and Sara Lee. He has the support of Georgia’s Herman Cain, a 2012 GOP presidential candidate.
His primary economic concerns are the $17 trillion national debt, $86 trillion in future unfunded liabilities for Social Security, Medicaid and federal employee benefits and pensions, and the fact that 80 percent of new jobs are part-time jobs.
• Kingston, 59, whose corny commercials have his children declaring how cheap he is (and, thus, how cheap he’d be with the government dollar), is backed by former University of Georgia football star Herschel Walker and former U.S. Rep. John Linder, a Georgian who is architect of the fair tax (a consumption-based tax), and former presidential candidate Steve Forbes.
He says he’d like to simplify the tax code, pass the fair tax and abolish the Internal Revenue Service. He would also implement a work requirement for able-bodied Americans on food stamps and restore a similar work requirement gutted by the Obama administration for people on welfare.
• Handel, 52, endorsed by 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum, lists as her four economic priorities: repealing Obamacare (and enacting a patients-centered plan), getting the country’s finances in order, reducing the U.S. tax burden and easing burdensome regulations.
Once deputy chief of staff to former Gov. Sonny Perdue, she fought the Obama administration as Georgia secretary of state to keep photo IDs necessary for voting and, as senior vice president of public policy for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, took the heat when Komen ended grants — and later reversed its decision — to Planned Parenthood.
David Perdue, a cousin to the former goveror, is running as — and is — the outsider in a race where the electorate consistently gives low marks to Congress and other office-holders. Indeed, his television ads show him as the 21st-century version of the Marlboro man in a denim jacket, its collar rakishly turned up, and his main rivals as diapered, crying babies.
Kingston and Handel have naturally hit back, accusing him of bankrupting North Carolina manufacturer Pillowtex, of not voting in a Republican primary, of trying to buy the race, and, curiously as both “out of touch” and an “elitist insider.”
Gingrey, according to a Huffington Post poll chart, was leading the race until February when he declined sharply and Perdue rose sharply. Kingston, running fourth until February, moved to third and then second in March. Handel, according to the same tracking poll compilation, recently narrowed the gap to Kingston.
The winner of the almost certain primary will in all likelihood face Democrat Michelle Nunn, the former Points of Light Foundation chief executive officer who has never held public office but is the daughter of former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn.
In the deep Republican state, with little primary opposition, she already is sounding moderate to conservative in her pronouncements.
So, even in Georgia, which sticks like glue to its University of Georgia Bulldogs and its Atlanta Braves, with Perdue and Nunn, it could be an outsider’s year.