Georgia's Senate race
Tossing rotten fruit in thePeachState
Two Republicans brawl over the right to take on Michelle Nunn
RUNNING for office inGeorgiacan be hard on the waistline. At nearly every campaign stop a candidate must sample the local culinary delights, which rarely consist of salad. David Perdue and Jack Kingston, two Republicans tussling for a United States Senate seat, look surprisingly trim despite tucking into turkey and gravy, ice cream, fried fish, bacon-filled biscuits and more besides. The battle has been long, hard and close; perhaps the sheer effort of fighting it has kept them in shape.
Originally there were seven Republicans jostling for the nomination to replace Saxby Chambliss, who is retiring. After a first round of voting, only Mr Perdue and Mr Kingston are left; the run-off is on July 22nd. On policy, there is not much to choose between them. Both are social conservatives. Both revile Obamacare and federal spending; both revere growth and fiscal reform. Their pitches to primary voters therefore stress their personalities, their achievements and the other chap's flaws.
Mr Perdue is an ex-boss of Reebok, a maker of sports kit, and Dollar General, a discount store. He has never held elected office before. Mr Kingston is a career politician, having served in Congress since 1993. Mr Perdue portrays himself as something fresh and his rival as a cobwebbed incumbent. “If you like what is going on inWashington, then vote for my opponent,” he tells crowds.
That opponent paints himself as a faithful public servant, dedicated to his district in Savannah. Mr Kingston chides his multimillionaire adversary for being “out of touch”. In a televised debate on July 13th he sneered: “You live inside a gate inside a gated community with a gate on your house. I think being a public servant is being public and knowing how to serve.”
Mr Perdue refuses to apologise for his wealth and success. When Mr Kingston boasted of his role in a public project to deepen the port of Savannah, he shot back that the congressman had taken “17 years to deepen this port five feet” and scoffed: “In the real world you would have been fired for that and here you want a promotion.”
Nonetheless, the polls favour Mr Kingston. Despite Mr Perdue's pedigree, the Chamber of Commerce backs the congressman. Its political director, Rob Engstrom, says Mr Kingston's past efforts to slash spending and create jobs explain why. He adds that the congressman has never voted for a tax increase.
The owner of Redneck Gourmet, an eatery in Newnan, has played host to both candidates, but is unconvinced by either: “As a small-business owner I look out for the things that are going to help me,” he says. A customer, Melinda Mansour, reckons that Mr Perdue's inexperience “is the best thing he's got going for him.” But he is not exactly an outsider: his cousin, Sonny Perdue, wasGeorgia's previous governor.
Mr Kingston has run a bare-knuckle campaign, accusing his opponent of destroying jobs, scrounging federal dollars and favouring tax hikes, and generally trying to make the Perdue family sound like the Georgia Borgias. Factcheck.org, a watchdog, criticises oneKingstonad for making “multiple misleading claims” about Mr Perdue's time as boss of Pillowtex, a textiles firm that went bust in 2003. A voter inWoodstocksays she abandoned Mr Kingston because of his “nasty” campaign ads.
The congressman has a scandal of his own: a donation of $80,000, linked to a Palestinian felon facing deportation. Phyllis Maybern, from Cartersville, says she won't vote for him because of it. Mr Perdue, meanwhile, faces difficult questions about his time at the Georgia Ports Authority. A trucking company he bought two years ago with his well-known cousin won contracts atSavannah's port while Mr Perdue served on the Ports Authority's board. Moreover, he was appointed to the post, by Governor Perdue.
The winner of the primary run-off will face Michelle Nunn, a community organiser and the daughter of Sam Nunn, a former Democratic senator who is still popular inGeorgia. The more her Republican foes batter each other, the weaker they will be in the general election, she hopes. The race is one of the Democrats' few hopes of picking up a Republican-held Senate seat this year. Mr Kingston is the only candidate who could beat Ms Nunn, reckons Steve Anthony of Georgia State University, and the likelier to get a shot at doing so.