(Bloomberg) — The two Georgia Republicans who will compete for a U.S. Senate nomination in a July runoff vote are hardly known outside their home state — and that may be the good news for the party.
The candidate in yesterday’s seven-candidate primary race who garnered the most national attention — Paul Broun, a Tea Party-backed member of the U.S. House who once called evolution a lie “straight from the pit of Hell” — won just 10 percent of the vote. His defeat was a top priority for a business coalition led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce bent on nominating the most competitive Republicans in the 2014 elections.
The two top finishers set for the July 22 runoff were David Perdue, once chief executive officer of Dollar General Corp., and U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston. Both will give Republicans their best shot to defeat Democrat Michelle Nunn.
“The Republicans appear to have avoided the worst-case scenario,” said non-partisan campaign analyst Stu Rothenberg, editor of the Washington-based Rothenberg Political Report. They “dodged that bullet.”
The potential loss of retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss’s seat would make Republicans’ effort to win the net six seats needed to take control of the U.S. Senate more difficult. Democrats view the Georgia race as one of their best chances to pick up a Republican-held seat in a cycle where they’re defending 21 slots, compared with 15 for Republicans.
Having Perdue and Kingston fight it out until the runoff is “an obvious advantage for the Democrats,” said Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta. “The Republicans have been attacking each other now for months,” Black said. “And Nunn has gotten a free pass.”
Nunn, 47, the daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia, easily won the Democratic primary against three opponents.
Both Perdue, who was also CEO of Reebok International Ltd., and Kingston have strong ties to the business community and raised more money than the other Republicans in the primary. Along with Broun, their challengers included third-place finisher Karen Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state who counted 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin among her supporters.
Kingston, who last month won the backing of the Chamber of Commerce, raised $5.6 million and had $1.3 million cash on hand as of April 30, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign spending.
As of the end of April, Perdue, 64, had only about $470,000 in cash on hand, having raised a total of $4.6 million.
Perdue, a cousin of Georgia’s former Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue, has touted his status as a Washington outsider. That’s a contrast he’ll continue to draw with Kingston.
Perdue’s first television ad in early February depicted his fellow Republican candidates as a lineup of crying babies.
“If these politicians had any understanding of the free- enterprise system and knew how to make a difference, wouldn’t they have done it already?” he said in the ad before asking voters to help him change the “childish behavior” in Washington.
In an ad that began airing earlier this month, Perdue zeroed in on Kingston, criticizing his “more than two decades” of “Washington big-spender experience.”