Georgia Senate runoff: Which Republican would run stronger in November?

In Tuesday's runoff, voters decide which Republican candidate goes up against Democrat Michelle Nunn, who has polled well in the Georgia Senate race. A US congressman leads a businessman in the race to take her on.

Sara Caldwell/The Augusta Chronicle/AP
Tuesday's runoff between Georgia Senate GOP candidates Jack Kingston and David Perdue (r.) is among the most hotly contested this election season.

Voters in Georgia go to the polls Tuesday to pick the Republican candidate for an open Senate seat that is among the most hotly contested this election season – a key skirmish in Republicans’ battle to win control of the Senate and stymie President Obama’s agenda.

The runoff election pits 11-term US Rep. Jack Kingston against former business executive David Perdue, cousin of former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue. Mr. Perdue was the top vote-getter in the May 20 primary, winning 30 percent of the vote in a seven-candidate field, according to an Associated Press analysis. Representative Kingston came in second, winning his own congressional district with 74.8 percent of the vote.

Both men spent the weekend shaking every hand they could find, in hopes of boosting voter enthusiasm in a midsummer election where turnout is expected to be 10 percent or lower, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Kingston told a crowd that posting a Facebook picture of themselves with him was more effective than his TV ads, the Atlanta paper said.

A Landmark Communications poll conducted July 16 showed Kingston with 48 percent of the vote versus 41 percent for Perdue. The poll of 1,270 likely voters had a margin of error of 2.4 percent.

The Georgia election is important because of the fierce battle for control of the Senate in November’s election. Most political observers expect GOP control of the House to continue.

In the battle to retain control of the Senate, Democrats are at a disadvantage because they have to defend 21 seats, as opposed to Republicans, who are defending 15 seats. Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss is retiring from the Georgia seat.

According to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, the Georgia Senate race is one of only two GOP seats considered a tossup in November. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell’s effort to hold his Senate seat in Kentucky is the other tossup. In the other seats they are defending, Republicans are favored to some degree.

The outcome of the battle between Kingston and Perdue, who was CEO of Dollar General, will determine who goes up against Michelle Nunn, the Democratic candidate. Ms. Nunn, who previously served as CEO of the Points of Light Foundation, has a well-known name in the state, as the daughter of former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn. The Cook Political Report calls her “the strongest Democratic Senate challenger of the cycle to date.”

When the Landmark Communications survey asked voters whom they would favor in November, both Republican candidates trailed Nunn. She had an 8 percent lead over Kingston and a 5 percent advantage over Perdue.

Overall, however, Georgia is strongly Republican. The GOP holds both Senate seats, eight of 13 congressional districts, the governorship, and both chambers of the state legislature.

In the Republicans' crowded May 20 primary, the seven candidates included two tea party favorites – US Reps. Paul Broun and Rep. Phil Gingrey. “While Republicans would have preferred avoiding a run-off, strategists are relieved that [Representatives Broun and Gingrey] didn’t finish in the top two. Neither man would have been a viable statewide general election candidate,” The Cook Political Report says.

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