Long, Bitter Georgia GOP Senate Primary Comes To An End

07/21/2014 03:43 pm ET | Updated Jul 21, 2014

WASHINGTON -- The Republican Party will finally settle on a Senate candidate in Georgia on Tuesday, when Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) and former Dollar General CEO David Perdue face voters after months of negative campaigning.

Kingston and Perdue were the top two vote-getters in the May 20 primary, beating a handful of more conservative candidates who many Democrats hoped would be the ones to win. But because neither received a majority of the vote, the contest went to a runoff. The runoff was nine weeks long because of a 2012 lawsuit by the Justice Department that alleged a three-week contest disenfranchised military and overseas voters.

Both men were considered more part of the establishment than some of their other primary opponents, including Reps. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) and Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), who had tea party support.

But since then, Perdue has come out swinging against Kingston, trying to portray himself as the anti-establishment, "conservative outsider" candidate. His closing attack ad accused the congressman of having his position on immigration "bought and paid for" by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has spent more than $2 million supporting Kingston.

In a statement to The Wall Street Journal, Perdue spokesman Derrick Dickey slammed the Chamber.

The lobbying behemoth "will back a career politician over a successful Fortune 500 CEO because they know the politicians will say and do anything to keep the campaign money flowing," he said. The Chamber, according to The Wall Street Journal, has supported Kingston in part because he voted for federal funding for a trade project in Savannah that the organization backed.

The Chamber's political director, Rob Engstrom, responded in kind to Perdue in a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"In the final days of the primary and in his latest sign of desperation, David Perdue is falling behind in the polls and has chosen to lie about the Chamber’s position on immigration. The fact is that Perdue sought the Chamber's endorsement, he didn't receive it, and this is just more sour grapes," Engstrom said.

But while lack of a voting record may have hurt Perdue with some endorsements, some Republicans believe it could help him in the general election because Democrats won't be able to attack him as readily for past positions. Perdue's deep pockets also allow him to throw a significant amount of money into his own campaign, though that could be used to portray him as out of touch with the struggles of average voters.

In April, for example, Perdue came under criticism when he mocked his then-primary opponent, Karen Handel, for not having a college degree.

The candidates have been spending a significant number of their final days campaigning in the metro Atlanta region, which is the most populous area of the state. According to The Associated Press, "turnout is expected to be strong along the coast and Kingston will have to run up the numbers like he did during the primary when he claimed 78 percent of the vote in his home base of Chatham County. But the coastal areas alone can't carry him across the finish line, and Kingston will have to perform very well in metro Atlanta and north Georgia."

They both have generally stuck to appealing to conservative voters, unlike in Mississippi's recent GOP Senate runoff, where Sen. Thad Chochran (R-Miss.) reached out to African-American voting blocs to defeat tea party candidate Chris McDaniel.

The winner will face Democrat Michelle Nunn in the general election to replace outgoing Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.). Nunn was unopposed in her primary, meaning she has been spared a contentious and costly battle so far.

Republicans need to gain just six seats to claim the majority in the Senate.

HuffPost Pollster, which averages the polls in the race, currently has Kingston leading Perdue.

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