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Out with the Old: Perdue Takes the GOP Nod in Georgia Senate Race

Vote tallies creeped in slowly last night from Georgia’s 159 counties for the runoff to fill the GOP’s slot in the U.S. Senate race. It’s the first time Georgia has held a nine-week runoff election, and both candidates came out swinging.

When the final count came in, it was almost a shock to see either name in the lead.

Businessman David Perdue took the GOP nomination with 50.9 to 49.1 percent. Much like the runoff election itself, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) kept a slight lead till the very end, when Perdue edged forward in what could easily be likened to a photo finish.

Georgia learned two very important lessons last night: First, that maybe it is time for a fresh face in Congress. Second, that a single vote can go a long way.

The few ayes have it

Polling stations were very different yesterday compared with the first primary nine weeks ago. At one station, May’s big posters and avid campaigners were replaced by a small, lonely sign for one of the candidates for sheriff. The lack of turnout was noted across much of the state as voters trickled in to cast their ballots.

“Living in Old Fourth Ward in Fulton County, I’ve been very proud of the voter turnout for the last two presidential elections,” Atlanta resident Kate McNeely told PJM, “but when I asked a volunteer if it had been that slow all day, she gave me a sad smile.”

The sentiment was seconded by voices at several polling places. Turnout was low, and votes were being cast on both sides fairly evenly. Republicans were either voting for Perdue to edge out careerist politician Kingston or voting for Kingston because they thought he had the better shot to win in the general election.

“Someone said the prediction was that about 12 percent [of registered voters] would come out,” one Ninth District voter commented. “But I’m thinking they’ll be lucky to hit seven or eight.”

In fact, the day’s turnout hit just under 500,000 – almost nine percent of registered Georgia voters. In a midterm primary runoff, the low turnout was not unexpected. However, as a red state that recently only tilts conservative, Georgia Republicans might think twice about skipping the general elections as GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss retires. Especially considering their party’s push this year to take back the Senate.

The “true conservative”

Kingston has served Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1993, and he hasn’t ruffled too many feathers. His experienced status should have been more help – as should his many endorsements, including from Tea Party favorite Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) – but this year has been different. Last month, Virginians voted out House majority whip Mr. Eric Cantor (R), proving that no seat is sacred. And yesterday Georgians made much the same point, albeit less fiercely.

As stated in this PJM article last week, Perdue and Kingston ran strikingly similar campaigns. Near the end, the main dig in both candidates’ political ads was that the other was “too liberal for Georgia.” When the choice appeared to be between the conservative millionaire they knew and the conservative millionaire “outsider,” Georgians seemed to eenie-meenie-miney-mo their way toward a fresh face.

Not that Perdue is without his merits. His reputation as a “turnaround specialist” in the business world offers economic clout where his political experience is lacking. It doesn’t hurt that his main opponent, Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn, similarly lacks a history in political office.

“I’m really encouraged that most people we talk to in this state are still focused on the critical issues,” Perdue said in his victory speech. “Jobs, the economy and this debt that they’re piling up on the backs of our kids and our grandkids: That’s what people in Georgia want to talk about.”

Perdue’s history in the business world – particularly his successes as CEO of companies like Dollar General and Reebok – may well put him in a good position to help America lessen its national debt. But the ensuing months may highlight his failures, as well. For example, he spent only seven months with textile giant Pillowtex, but could not lift the company out of financial trouble.

Nunn also boasts a strong leadership background. However, her work has been in founding and building volunteer service organizations like Hands On Atlanta or Points of Light, of which she is currently CEO. She may not have created economic miracles, but her grassroots efforts lend credibility to her image as someone of the people. As part of her organizations, she has encountered and responded to their needs – something that might act as a strong counterpoint to Perdue’s businessman image.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Executive Director Guy Cecil said the Nunn campaign is looking forward to the Perdue challenge. “It’s clear multi-millionaire David Perdue is only looking out for himself—his shady business dealings have left companies billions in debt and bankrupt while leaving thousands jobless,” Cecil said in a statement last night. “…Michelle is running one of the strongest campaigns in the country and she will make an excellent Senator who fights on behalf of Georgians across the state.”

In with the new

Though it was a close vote yesterday, Georgia Republicans chose to block out 11-term congressman Jack Kingston. Instead, they pushed forward political “outsider” David Perdue to go head-to-head against fellow political newcomer Nunn.

In a statement, Chambliss threw his support behind Perdue, calling him “a strong leader with a proven business record, who will come to Washington with fresh ideas and a passion for solutions.”

We often hear talk of “throwing the bums out,” as the old saying goes, but we rarely see it in action. This year we saw Cantor lose his House seat. And now, as Chambliss steps down, Georgians have chosen non-politicians to run in the race to replace him. Step by step, Americans are saying that something needs to change – and that change may well be pushing out the polarized careerist politicians in Congress.

Pushes like these signal to politicians that public opinion matters, especially in their home districts. No seat is sacred, and stale politicians won’t always make the cut as long as voters are willing to choose fresh faces. The extremely tight margin of victory also tells us that every vote matters.

In today’s world, with immense populations and declining political compromise, it can be easy to forget that voting makes a difference. It can be easy to forgo the polling stations to keep up with the fast pace of modern society. But votes like yesterday’s indicate the importance of that civic duty we call elections.

“It was me,” one voter jokingly posted on Facebook as the results came in. “It was my vote.”

She may have posted in jest, but with a less than two percent win for Perdue the joke rings just a little bit true.

(For complete 2014 midterm coverage, get your campaign fix on The Grid.)

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