ATLANTA (AP) — After a bruising nine-week runoff campaign, Georgia Republicans will finally have their Senate nominee who will compete against Democrat Michelle Nunn for a seat the GOP can ill afford to lose as the party looks to take control of the chamber.
Voters head to the polls Tuesday to decide between Rep. Jack Kingston and businessman David Perdue after a closely watched campaign shaped largely by each candidate's personal history rather than the issues. The two are both conservatives in a state that has been dominated in recent years by Republicans who hold every statewide office.
Instead, the race has focused on whether Kingston's 11 terms in Congress are an asset or a liability, a sign that he's a proven and trusted conservative or part of the gridlock in Washington. Perdue, the former CEO of Dollar General and Reebok, has hammered Kingston as a career politician who hasn't accomplished much in 22 years in Congress. His TV ads have depicted politicians as crying babies who've had their chance to fix the problems in Washington.
Meanwhile, Kingston has fought back by questioning whether a self-proclaimed "outsider" can be trusted to do what he says, even comparing Perdue during a debate to President Barack Obama as to what can happen when a political novice is elected. Kingston has also attacked Perdue's business record and accused him of benefiting from his position on the Georgia Ports Authority, an appointment made by his cousin, then-Gov. Sonny Perdue.
Kingston has earned nearly every possible endorsement, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to prominent tea party activists in the state. He's also drawn the support of two former rivals in the Senate race who have been working to get their supporters to the polls to vote for Kingston. Perdue, who made millions working for Dollar General, has poured about $3.1 million of his own money into the race to keep pace with Kingston, who has dominated in fundraising.
Both candidates have been airing tough TV ads attacking each other, and their one debate featured several testy exchanges. However, both men have pledged to support the eventual winner and work hard to make sure the Republican nominee wins in November.
Tuesday's runoff was called after a crowded primary in May. Perdue won the most votes but didn't receive the more than 50 percent needed to capture the nomination outright. A federal court ruling last year on military and overseas ballots forced Georgia to push the runoff to nine weeks after the primary, instead of the usual three.
While Kingston and Perdue have spent a combined $11 million on the race, Nunn has been focused on stockpiling her cash and crafting a message aimed at wooing independent voters.
Nunn, the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, is considered among the top Democratic recruits in the country and one of the best hopes for Democrats to keep a Senate majority. Republicans need to gain just six seats to take control of the Senate for the last two years of Obama's term.
The Georgia seat opened when Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss announced plans to retire at the end of the year.
Also on the November ballot is Libertarian Amanda Swafford, a former councilwoman from Flowery Branch.