State Rep. Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg, left, greets Gov. Nathan Deal on May 8 at a visit to Lee County. Deal easily turned back two Republican opponents in Tuesday's primary election and will face Democratic gubernatorial nominee state Sen. Jason Carter in the Nov. 4 general election. (Special photo)
ATLANTA — Businessman David Perdue and U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, the survivors of the crowded Republican Senate primary, will be in the runoff election for that nomination while Gov. Nathan Deal barreled past two GOP opponents as he heads for a re-election challenge from Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter.
Deal had no trouble fending off State School Superintendent John Barge and David Pennington in his bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. With all of Georgia's 159 counties reporting their unofficial totals Wednesday, Deal garnered 428,939 votes, or 72.15 percent.
Carter was unopposed for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
The gubernatorial candidates were already in general election mode before more than a handful of votes had been tabulated Tuesday evening. About 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Carter fired the first salvo, a statement that the "campaign for Georgia’s future starts now. We need new leaders with a vision for Georgia that starts with a world-class education system and an economy that works for everyone. I look forward to visiting every part of our state and debating Gov. Deal on the issues that matter most to Georgia families. ...
“It is time for leaders with a vision for a better future. That vision starts with investing in public education and making sure we have an economy that works for everyone. It is a future that doesn’t leave anyone behind. I’ve met people all around this state who are ready for something different, and who know that we can do better. Our campaign is going to be about all of us working together to build a dynamic, forward-facing state that is ready to compete in the 21st century."
Deal claimed the win in his race around 9 p.m. Tuesday, touting his record as governor and saying that the large margin of victory was indicative of a state Republican Party that was unified.
"In my second term," Deal said, "we'll boost economic development by starting work on the deepening of the Savannah Harbor, the Ga. 400/I-285 interchange, the Northwest Corridor and new lanes on I-75 south of Atlanta. Just as we have connected every classroom in the state to the Internet, we must continue to bring our school system into the 21st century. Our Georgia Pre-K is a national model, so we know Georgia's k-12 schools can be too. Just as we have for the past four years, we'll prioritize investments in our schools, technical college system and University System so that Georgians have the preparation they need for the jobs of tomorrow. We'll study the recommendations of the Child Welfare Reform Council and craft new policies to better protect our most vulnerable citizens, and we'll fix our campaign finance commission to remove any appearance of conflict of interest and get the system working again.
"We believe that the best purpose for government is to create the right environment for job creation. A job provides a livelihood, and it provides dignity. When people have good jobs, they have less need to ask the government to do something for them. We will advocate solutions that keep taxes low, reduce the size of state government and increase personal freedoms. And we will contrast our positions with our opponents' vision of higher taxes, more government control over our lives and reckless spending that endangers our future."
Perdue and Kingston were neck and neck most of the night, leading the crowded Republican Senate field with about 30 percent of the vote. With all counties reported, Perdue's lead over Kingston was just under 5 percentage points, 30.64 percent to 25.79 percent. Former secretary of state Karen Hadel was third at 21.96 percent, followed, in order, by U.S. Reps. Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun, Derrick Grayson and Arthur Gardner.
Kingston, promoting his record of not voting for tax increases and his favorable pro-business ratings, went on the offensive Wednesday morning in what some are predicting will be a brutal runoff campaign.
“As we enter the next phase of this campaign, Georgia conservatives have a clear choice," Kingston said, adding Perdue "campaigns against government spending but sits on the boards of companies that have taken millions in corporate welfare from Obama’s stimulus. More than a million of which wound up in his pocket."
Kingston attacked Perdue's record as CEO of Pillowtex, saying he bankrupted the company in nine months and laid of 8,000 employees.
“For his trouble, he took a $3.4 million golden parachute," the representative said. “My opponent is so out of touch that he thinks increasing your taxes will help boost the economy. If that wasn’t enough, he wants to impose a $23 billion tax on the Internet. We cannot afford David Perdue."
Perdue's campaign did not immediately release a statement.
Across the aisle, Michelle Nunn pulled in nearly three out of every four Democratic Party votes (74.96 percent) cast in her race to claim her party's Senate nomination.
"Georgians know that Washington is not working for them. They tell me they are tired of the political dysfunction, the finger pointing and the name-calling," she said Tuesday night. "Tonight, we send a message to Washington that we want something different!"
Perdue and Kingston have been working to see who could be the more right-wing, Nunn charged.
"They’re embracing acrimony and inflexibility and it's that kind of absolute failure to work together that’s causing Washington to be so dysfunctional," she said.
The winner between Nunn and the Republican nominee on Nov. 4 will succeed U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Moultrie, who is not seeking re-election.
In other state races, Doreen Carter captured 68.78 percent of the votes cast in her contest with Gerald Beckham in the Democratic Primary for secretary of state. The winner faces incumbent Republican Brian Kemp in November.
Similarly, Elizabeth Johnson had 69.92 percent of the Democratic vote against Keith Heard for the right to run against Republican Insurance and Fire Safety Commissioner Ralph Hudgens.
In the races for the state school superintendent office that Barge is vacating at the end of the year, Valarie Wilson, with 32.59 percent, led Democratic candidates and will face Alisha Morgan (26.41 percent) in the runoff.
On the GOP side, nine candidates were challenging for the state school chief nomination, with Michael Buck leading the pack with 19.52 percent of the vote. He'll face No. 2 Richard Woods, who had 16.76 percent. Woods edged out Mary Kay Bacallao, 15.33 percent, and Ashley Bell, 14.96 percent, with only a 8,419-vote margin separating second and fourth place in a race in which 467,123 votes were cast.
The biggest challenge the candidates in the runoffs will face may be getting their election bases motivated. With all counties reporting their unofficial results, the statewide turnout of 984,382 voters represents only 19.53 percent of the state's 5.04 million people who were qualified to vote in Tuesday's primaries.
That means only about one in every five eligible voters turned out or voted early in the primary elections.
That low voter interest may be exacerbated by the unusually long length of time — nine weeks — before the runoffs take place on July 22.