Teresa Tomlinson, the former mayor of Columbus who is now a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, told Democrats in Statesboro last week that Sen. David Perdue, the Republican incumbent, is vulnerable.
Increasing federal budget deficits — despite Perdue's campaigning on the need to balance the budget — and the effect President Donald Trump's trade policies have on Georgia farmers are reasons she suggested for that vulnerability.
Tomlinson served two four-year terms as Columbus' mayor after winning contested elections by substantial margins in 2010 and 2014. She is one of at least three candidates currently seeking the Democratic Party nomination in the May 19 primary to challenge Perdue in the November general election.
When she spoke to local Democrats at Luetta Moore Park in Statesboro Feb. 4, Tomlinson asserted that Georgia isn't "a really red state," meaning as solidly Republican as some other states. She observed that Democrats have been rebuilding here, beginning with the 2014 elections.
"In 2016, Donald Trump won the state of Georgia with 50.4% of the vote," Tomlinson said. "That man almost lost the majority vote in Georgia."
Then, in 2018, Republican Brian Kemp was elected governor by a slightly narrower margin over Stacey Abrams. Tomlinson called Abrams "a loud and proud Democrat like me."
"Democrats have the better governing principles, and Stacey Abrams believed that too and people started coming out of the woodwork because they wanted a strong leader who believes that government made a difference, and upon a sea of voter suppression, she lost that race by 55,000 votes, 1.5%," Tomlinson said.
Those two races, and some down-ticket ones she mentioned, have shown Georgia to be "a two-point state," she said.
"So know this, that David Perdue is vulnerable," Tomlinson continued. "He is vulnerable for several reasons. Number one, he told us that he was going to go up to Washington, D.C., and he was going to fix the budget deficit. Well, the budget deficit is three times more than it would have been had he never shown up, and that's the Office of Management and Budget telling us that, not Teresa Tomlinson."
She didn't cite any actual numbers in her remarks. But according to numbers at www.thebalance.com based in OMB reports, the expected federal deficit for fiscal year 2020 is $1.101 trillion, up from $438 billion in 2015, which was the year Perdue joined the Senate. That's two and a half times higher.
"Reckless, irresponsible policies have ballooned our budget deficit three times more than it would have been if he'd never shown up. He has failed in his job," Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson noted that national media have referred to Perdue positioning himself as the president's "co-pilot" on policies.
"So he has co-piloted Trump to declare tariff wars on our own farmers," Tomlinson said. "They're our supply chain for pecans and cotton and corn grown in this state. Our number-one industry is agriculture, and Trump with no plan whatsoever and with the aid of David Perdue declares tariff wars on our farmers and changes permanently supply chains to some of our international traders."
She also referred to spikes in the number of suicides and bankruptcies among Georgia farmers.
Cites fall poll
Tomlinson cited the results of a University of Georgia poll last fall in which 35% of Georgia voters who responded said they would vote for Perdue for re-election.
"But 61% of Georgia's registered voters would consider voting for the Democratic nominee, depending on who that nominee is," she said.
The poll was conducted Oct. 30-Nov. 8 by the university's School of Public and International Affairs, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the results Nov. 13. Tomlinson's observation appears to combine, with rounding, the 21% of voters who said they would vote for Perdue's Democratic opponent and 41% who said it would depend on who that opponent is.
The poll had a reported 3% margin of error.
"Now, I'm not saying the Democrats are going to get 61% of the voters," Tomlinson said. "I'm saying that 61% of the registered voters of Georgia will look and listen to our candidate for a split second, if we pick the right person, and we'll have that moment in time to garner support and cobble together a coalition that will change the electoral template of this state."
She asserted that she is the right person, based on her experience winning tough elections and as chief elected official of the Columbus Consolidated Government, which is both the government of Muscogee County and of Georgia's third-largest city.
The other known Democratic candidates in the May primary are investigative filmmaker Jon Ossoff, who previously ran for Georgia's 6th District U.S. House seat in a 2017 special election, and Sarah Riggs Amico, the 2018 Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. Another previously announced candidate, Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry, withdrew from the race last month.
Tomlinson, an attorney, is a graduate of Emory University School of Law in Atlanta and of Sweet Briar College in Virginia.
She first won a four-candidate race with 68% of the votes in a 2010 runoff, becoming Columbus's first female mayor. In 2014, she was re-elected with 63% of the votes, the first Columbus mayor re-elected in a contested race since 1971.
Tomlinson said she took part in 44 candidate debates during her mayoral campaigns.