U.S. Senate candidate David Perdue, making a campaign stop at Locos Grill & Pub in Statesboro with five days to go in the primary runoff, told reporters that the other Republican in the race, U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, spends money like a liberal Democrat.
The question had been, to what extent does the Republican runoff hinge on who is more conservative? Perdue replied that at this point, turnout is going to be an issue but that voters are very concerned about Georgia's conservative values, one of which is fiscal responsibility. Growing up in Middle Georgia, where his parents were teachers and he worked on a farm, Perdue said, he was taught that "if you don't have it, don't spend it."
"The biggest difference between my opponent and me is his spending record," Perdue added. "He has spent money like a liberal Democrat, frankly, and I think there's a real issue with that, particularly when you look at the debt. When he was in office in '92, we had $4 trillion of debt. Now we have almost $18 trillion of debt."
Although first elected in 1992, Kingston has actually been representing Georgia's 1st Congressional District since the start of the 1993 session. Perdue added that Kingston has been "an appropriator" much of that time. He currently chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services, education and related agencies.
In contrast to Kingston's 22 years in the House, Perdue has held no elected offices. He started campaigning as a political outsider long before the May 20 primary narrowed the field to the two of them.
The Glynn County resident, 64, has been an executive in several major corporations. He served as CEO of Reebok and Dollar General and is now a partner with his cousin, former Gov. Sonny Perdue, in a company involved in trucking and international trade.
"I've been in business, where if you don't balance budget and produce profits, you don't get a chance to survive very long," Perdue said, later adding, "This fiscal irresponsibility we've demonstrated as a country over the past 10 to 15 years has got to change. This debt is very unmanageable, and we've got to start solving it now."
Asked how his conservative credentials stack up, he again touted his business background and lack of Washington, D.C., experience, including lack of a voting record in Congress.
"I think therein lies the opportunity," Perdue said. "My opponent has been up there for 22 years. He bears some responsibility in the mess that we have up there, and I don't think that we can trust him to fix it."
Perdue captured the lead among the seven candidates in the primary with 30.6 percent of the vote statewide to Kingston's 25.8 percent. However, 76 percent of Bulloch County primary voters chose Kingston, while Perdue came in second here with 12.25 percent of the votes. The Bulloch vote totals were 3,325 for Kingston and 536 for Perdue, while the other five candidates divided 514 local votes.
But now it's just the two of them, and the statewide count in the runoff will be what matters. Early voting concludes today, but polls will be open 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Tuesday at all regular voting precincts.
Asked if the more conservative Republican candidate is the one with the better chance of winning against Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn in the Nov. 4 general election, Perdue said he doesn't know about that.
"The conservative values are very important," he said. "What I think it comes down to in the election with the Democrat this fall is — I'm not sure she's a Democrat. She hasn't said that yet, so we'll find out — but at the same time, it's going to come down to, she's an outsider; I'm an outsider. She's an outsider and my opponent is an insider with a spending record in Congress that can really be attacked.
"He can't prosecute that record of this Democratic leadership over the last six years because he's been a part of it," Perdue continued. "My independence will allow me to prosecute that record of the last six years, and there's no way that she's going to be able to defend the failed policies."
Perdue was going to an event Thursday night Savannah, Kingston's hometown.
The afternoon visit with supporters at Locos was Perdue's fourth official stop in Statesboro, and he said he has been in the area more times than that in the past year. But noting that he has campaigned in all parts of the state, he said "not really" to whether his runoff strategy has involved spending extra time in Kingston's home area.
"It's very obvious that the candidate cares about this area because he's been here a lot," said Alec Poitevint, who along with his wife, Doreen Poitevint, chairs Perdue's campaign.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.