About a month out from the initial ballot, the five-way Republican primary in Georgia is heating up, with businessman Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), a cousin of former Georgia Republican Governor Sonny Perdue, taking the early lead.
The primary features a kind of cornucopia of Republicans who have stepped up to replace retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss. There’s a war veteran, an OBGYN doctor, a popular eleven-term congressman, a wealthy businessman, and a secretary of state.
Three of the candidates in the race are already members of the House of Representatives: Reps. Phil Gingrey, Jack Kingston, and Paul Broun. They are the conservative insiders that continue to win re-election in their safe Republican districts and feel like it’s time to move on to the Senate.
Perdue and Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel are making the case that they can bring fresh eyes to Washington.
Though Perdue has the lead, Kingston is close behind, Handel is showing signs of momentum, and the pack is close together with enough time left for significant movement. In all likelihood, no candidate will emerge with 50 percent of the vote, forcing a July runoff between the top two finishers.
Gingrey admitted that the three of them discussed the race together before making the decision to jump in, but they all felt qualified to step up. Since they all jumped in the race, they’ve formed a voting bloc on the far right flank of the Republican conference, including recently voting against the Ryan budget.
“All three of us represent very, very safe Republican congressional seats so we’re not putting our districts at risk of flipping from red to blue, that’s not going to happen,” Gingrey said.
A native Georgian, Gingrey felt that he had the edge, as his congressional district includes most of the metropolitan Atlanta area.
Early polling, he explained, showed that he had excellent name recognition in the state as his district currently represents at least 65 percent of Republican primary voters.
It doesn’t hurt, he added, that as a native Georgian, Gingrey was an also an OBGYN doctor before he was a congressman, delivering hundreds of babies in the state.
Rep. Jack Kingston is an 11-term congressman, first elected in 1993 as part of the Gingrich revolution.
Arguably Kingston is the leader of the three, as he has already raised $4 million in the race and earned the endorsement of the Chamber of Commerce.
“I’ve been a soldier in this war for many many years. I’ve never forgotten who I was, where I came from, or what I was sent to do,” Kingston explained during a Republican primary debate on Saturday.
Kingston has a fairly conservative voting record that would stack up effectively, if it wasn’t for the staunch conservatism of his conservative colleague Rep. Paul Broun.
Broun chews up Kingston’s record with a constitutionally conservative buzz saw.
Endorsed by Congressman Ron Paul, Broun proudly states that if elected, he will close down the Department of Education, Energy, Commerce, Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency.
“When I was sworn into congress, I swore to uphold the Constitution against enemies both foreign and domestic, out of control government has become the biggest enemy to the Constitution that we have,” Broun said emphatically to Breitbart News.
Broun openly criticizes Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) for leading Republicans in the direction of bigger government. Broun was one of the few who voted against Boehner as speaker in 2013–choosing to vote for conservative firebrand Rep. Allen West instead.
Kingston’s conservative voting record pales in comparison to Broun’s, which easily earned him the endorsement of the Madison Project.
Broun insists that his record not only inspires grassroots conservatives to keep fighting for him, it offers them a feeling of confidence.
“They know where I am going as a Senator, because they have seen where I have been as a congressman,” he explains.
Broun is fully aware that Democrats are mocking him on the sidelines, whispering to the media that he is an unelectable, gaffe-prone radical, but to him, that’s a sign that he’s going to win.
“The media likes big government, and they are fearful that I’ll get elected to senate,” he replied simply when asked if he’s worried about their assessment of his character.
Despite the critics in the consulting class, however, Broun is widely regarded to be running a disciplined campaign, although he isn’t taking off in the polls.
Broun believes it’s nearly impossible for a Democrat to win in Georgia.
“The only way we’re going to give a Democrat any opening whatsoever is if conservatives stay home. That may happen if Georgia Republicans nominate a big spending, big earmarking, go-along-get-along, whatever the leadership says, establishment type of Republican,” he says hinting at Kingston’s record.
When you have three Republican congressmen from safe Republican districts each talking about their conservative values and their voting record in Washington, they frequently strike a familiar chord.
Two of the other candidates are Washington outsiders, who are making the case that it’s time to send new blood to Congress, instead of promoting an existing congressman.
Perdue, thanks to a well-funded ad campaign and the name recognition he enjoys, he has taken the lead, running on the idea that as successful businessman and an outsider he will bring common-sense ideals to Washington.
“People are more concerned about the fact that I’m an outsider, they’re fed up with trusting people on the inside to do what they say what they’re going to do and haven’t done it,” he said in an interview with Breitbart News.
He dismisses his other four opponents for failing to deliver, roping them in with the larger problems with Washington D.C.
“When they look at comparing me to four professional politicians it’s pretty easy, if they like what’s going on in Washington, they’ve got four people to choose from,” Perdue says, pointing at the “childish behavior” in Congress that has racked up 17 trillions of dollars of debt.
Perdue’s pitch is working. It’s already earned favorable remarks from fellow businessman Herman Cain, a popular conservative figure in the state after his campaign for president.
Purdue lost some momentum after he derided his opponent Handel for only having a high school degree.
“I mean, there’s a high school graduate in this race, OK? I’m sorry, but these issues are so much broader, so complex,” Perdue said at an event in January. The tape was revealed in the first week of April, sparking controversy for his campaign.
Handel jumped on his remarks, pointing out that it was a troubling sign of elitism that he would bring to the Senate.
Perdue’s comments also earned the scorn of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who endorsed Handel.
With Palin’s endorsement and the quick response to Perdue’s blooper, Handel has surged to third place. Handel also earned the endorsement of Arizona governor Jan Brewer.
Handel believes that her surge is justified and argues that it’s time for a candidate who can effectively articulate a conservative message without tripping over themselves.
“Look at the candidates in this race, every single one of my opponents has already said something, already generated a headline, that plays right into the hands of Democrats,” she told Breitbart News.
Perdue admitted his mistake, telling Breitbart News that he got “ahead of his headlights a bit,” but he says that he called Handel and apologized.
“I asked for her forgiveness and I apologized. That’s the way I was raised,” Perdue said.
Perdue believes voters will see past his gaffe, and polls two weeks after the controversy show him at the top of the field.
The latest Insider Advantage poll in Georgia shows that Perdue is still leading the race with 18.9 percent support with likely Republican primary voters. Kingston is at 15.4 percent, while Handel has 12.9 percent. Broun currently shows 11.3 percent, while Gingrey clocks in at 8.7 percent.
Handel, however, believes that she offers a better message for the Republican party that has struggled to defend themselves from the Democrat charges of anti-woman policies.
“There are just ways that women can talk and interact on issues that I think can be very very productive for the GOP,” she said. “I think for me as a conservative woman from the South, its not lost on me that there will be tremendous opportunity, and with that is going to come a significant obligation of responsibility so that I am strong voice for conservatives generally and also conservative women.”
When asked whether she was concerned about the tendency of the left to target conservative women such as Palin and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Handel said that she would continue fighting and shrug off the attacks.
“I would say the media maybe tried to chew on Sarah Palin, but I think she does a pretty good job of holding her own,” she said.
Handel got another boost Wednesday when RedState editor-in-chief and radio host Erick Erickson endorsed her.