PERRY, Ga. — Democrat Michelle Nunn and Republican David Perdue accused each other of offering false hope to voters during a rowdy debate Tuesday, arguing their opponent will not be able to advance anything if elected to Georgia's open Senate seat.
From the moment the debate began before a crowd of a few thousand gathered inside an arena at the Georgia National State Fair, the candidates were on the attack and seeking to undercut each other's message of bringing change to Washington. The race is being closely watched nationally as Republicans seek to take control of the Senate and can't afford to lose the Georgia seat.
Perdue, the former CEO of Dollar General, dismissed Nunn's call for bipartisanship and compromise as unrealistic since she is being supported by national Democrats. She is the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, a moderate who represented Georgia for years.
"My Democratic opponent was hand-picked by President Obama. Do you think she is going to go against his policies?" Perdue said.
Perdue repeatedly mentioned Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, blaming him for much of the gridlock in Washington and saying Nunn's first vote would be to keep him in charge of the Senate. At one point, Nunn said: "I'm not sure he recognizes that he is not running against Harry Reid."
That prompted Perdue to respond: "You are dead wrong. I am absolutely running against Barack Obama and Harry Reid."
The raucous crowd, tilted heavily toward Perdue, cheered his response while a smaller but vocal contingent of Nunn supporters booed. The debate was frequently interrupted and the candidates' words drowned out by cheers and boos from the crowd, along with chants of "Nunn of that" and "Tell the truth."
Nunn, who is on a leave of absence as CEO of the nonprofit Points of Light, argued Perdue "does not have the leadership necessary" to be effective. She argued he favors gridlock as demonstrated by his support of last year's GOP-led government shutdown and his opposition to the farm bill and bipartisan immigration reform.
"We don't need the kind of dysfunction that leads to government shutdowns," Nunn said. "We need principled efforts and ideals, but we also need to send people to Washington that are not about attacking and paralyzing and polarizing our government."
Nunn also attacked Perdue over a 2005 court deposition that surfaced recently in which he discusses his experience with outsourcing at companies like Haggar, Sara Lee and the North Carolina textile company, Pillowtex Corp. Nunn said that while Perdue had been running on his business experience, his experience would not help American workers.
"He would be the only senator who would have built his career around outsourcing jobs," Nunn said.
Perdue has said his experience with outsourcing wasn't about moving job overseas but obtaining products and services for companies.
At one point, Nunn asked whether Perdue supports an increase in the federal minimum wage and Perdue responded that he did not.
"As I have said, if you increase the minimum wage, you will kill jobs in this country," Perdue said. "This president wants bigger government, higher taxes, more regulation. This is the plan my opponent supports."
Immigration and agriculture were also hot topics for the crowd. Perdue said he wanted to make it easier for farmers to obtain work visas and accused Nunn of not listing agriculture as a top priority in a campaign memo — something she dismissed as untrue.
Also at the debate was Libertarian Amanda Swafford, a former Flowery Branch councilwoman, who argued neither Perdue nor Nunn was offering anything new.
"We know it doesn't matter which party controls Congress in Washington because both parties have controlled us for decades," Swafford said.