Georgia Senate Heats Up as Perdue, Nunn Get Their Hands Dirty

The race for Georgia’s Senate seat has heated up in the past month as Republican candidate David Perdue and Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn trade blows. Nunn hit the ground running with a money-bomb fundraising effort on the first day of the general election campaign, followed by a whirlwind of events, campaign ads, and endorsements. Perdue, on the other hand, led in initial polls, but lagged behind in campaign strategy and endorsements.

By last week we’ve seen Perdue catch up, leading by 2.6 points and launching his first video attack ad against Nunn.

“In her campaign plan,” says the ad, “Michelle Nunn admits she’s ‘too liberal’ and her foundation gave money to organizations linked to terrorists. So Nunn needed to fool Georgians to win.”

Nunn gets her hands muddy

In fact, the past month has shown a big shift in campaign strategy for Nunn, as well. Nunn ran unopposed in the traditionally red state’s Democratic primary, and until August her campaign had consisted mostly of positive messages about her fresh perspective on politics, her background and her family life. Even her leaked campaign strategy focused on fighting negative attacks she expected to receive, rather than those she might dish out.

But August brought out the fiercer side of Nunn, who seems to have picked up a few fistfuls of mud with the express purpose of slinging them at Perdue. Her first general campaign ad came out attacking the Republican candidate, rejecting Perdue as being out of touch with the “real world” and painting him as a millionaire CEO who didn’t look out for the American employees of companies he once headed. The ad ends with the message, “His world doesn’t include you.”

Perdue’s ad says much the same of Nunn, claiming that she is trying to “dupe” Georgians into believing she is a moderate who will care for their needs. He continues to link Nunn to liberal rhetoric concerning policies such as Obamacare and tax hikes, as well as to liberal leaders like President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

However, voters are not entirely sold on these campaign strategies.

The cost of being catty

Indeed, Perdue has been slinging mud since early in his campaign. This was especially true during the July GOP runoff that left Perdue squeaking by with a win of less than two percent of votes. Even then, voters began to speak out against the negative campaign ads that took over the race.

“I am super disappointed in both [Perdue] and Kingston for mud-slinging,” said one young Republican after the GOP runoff. “I am not pledging my vote to Michelle Nunn; however, she will have an opportunity to earn it between now and November just as much as Perdue will.”

Perdue’s new ad is especially disconcerting given his distaste for Nunn’s offense-driven strategy at last month’s Georgia Senate candidates forum in Macon, Ga.

"From the onset, Michelle Nunn desperately attempted to attack David,” noted Perdue communications director Ms. Megan Whittemore. “For someone who talks a lot about changing the tone in Washington she was the only one on stage who was playing D.C. politics as usual.”

Admittedly, Perdue’s shaky start in the general election could have something to do with a shift in campaign management. Whittemore joined the team in early August, after leaving her post as press secretary for former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), whose loss in the primary came as a bit of a shock to the GOP. While with Cantor, she had gained notoriety as one of 2013’s “PR People to Watch.” So perhaps this new initiative is the big push that Perdue desperately needs.

Badmouth backlash?

During the forum, Perdue had been the picture of political professionalism. His tie was a soft peach, but his expression was firm and his demeanor that of a measured businessman. To his right sat a cross-legged Nunn, her slight frame somewhat diminished in a periwinkle blazer and with her strand of pearls askew. Even her voice was quiet – a result of poor sound equipment management that was corrected halfway through the discussion.

Yet Nunn spoke like a seasoned statesman, boldly detailing her issue stances and holding nothing back.

For some supporters, Nunn’s negativity came as a bit of a shock, especially given her promise to “change the tone” of Washington. Other Nunn supporters see this strategy shift as a response to Perdue’s win in the GOP primary over House Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.).

“I think we expected to run against Kingston,” admitted one Georgia Democratic Party volunteer. “That would have been the easier campaign.”

Perdue certainly ran a strong campaign against Kingston in the primary, portraying himself as the political “outsider” taking on Kingston, the careerist politician — a tactic Nunn might have tried herself. However, Nunn’s shift in strategy toward negativity is met by a wavering Democratic base.

“Negative ads just annoy me—even ones from candidates that I support,” remarked Georgia high school teacher Rachelle Udell. “I would rather the candidates and their supporters produce ads and websites that tell me exactly what the candidate has done for the people or the community.… Don't spend too much time telling me what the other guy hasn’t done. I know what the other guy hasn't done. I want to know what you have done and plan to do!”

The name of change

Nunn’s campaign office has refused to comment on the matter, much like the silence heard after her leaked campaign strategy and evidence that the Points of Light Foundation, where Nunn served as CEO since 2007, made grants to Islamic Relief USA, an organization that has been loosely tied to Hamas.

While the campaign remains tight-lipped with press, Nunn’s supporters have been rather chatty. Nunn’s video for the Democratic state convention highlights a variety of endorsements from Georgia constituents, public officials, and community leaders alike. More recently, former Georgia Gov. Zell Miller (D), who famously backed George W. Bush in 2004, endorsed Nunn. And obviously she has received a great deal of support from her father, the much-beloved moderate, former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.).

Yet Perdue is not without his own set of impressive endorsements and a family link to Georgia politics. Though it is rarely—if ever—mentioned in his campaign messages, David is the cousin of former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (R). Instead, the Perdue campaign has focused on the issues and on bringing a political “outsider” mentality to D.C.

In this, Perdue and Nunn seem to agree: The tone in Washington needs to change. However, this seems to be where their agreement ends.

Nunn would move to create a more moderate tone of cooperation and bipartisanship, while Perdue would have a shift toward conservative values and fiscal responsibility. These views are evidenced in the tone of their campaigns and the language emerging on their social media sites.

Although much of what the campaigns post on social media has been against Washington itself, we are still seeing the traditional campaign attacks. Both Perdue and Nunn claim to be someone fresh and different, yet it seems each has resorted to the very campaign politics they speak out against.