ATLANTA — Within hours of David Perdue's GOP Senate nomination, the real battle began with supporters of the new Republican nominee and Democrat Michelle Nunn launching attack ads in a general election matchup that will help settle control of the Senate.
Democrats wasted no time launching their first attacks against the businessman who spent at least $3 million of his own money defeating veteran Rep. Jack Kingston Tuesday night. Hours later, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee rolled out a 2½ minute online video that spliced together debate clips of Kingston and other Republican primary opponents attacking Perdue as an out-of-touch executive who enriched himself leading companies that lost U.S. jobs.
Nunn, meanwhile, was targeted for supporting Obama's health care law and higher taxes in a new ad by the Ending Spending Action Fund, a Super PAC backed by the Ricketts family, whose patriarch, Joe Ricketts, founded TD Ameritrade and now owns the Chicago Cubs baseball team. It denounces Nunn as "the last thing Georgia taxpayers need."
The contest is one of the nation's most closely watched in the 2014 elections, and the prospects of Democrats winning a Senate seat in the GOP-leaning state are tantalizing for Nunn and her party as they defend their Senate majority. But Perdue is running as a Washington outsider and has the firepower of his own wealth behind him, having sunk at least $3 million of his own money into winning the GOP nomination against veteran Rep. Jack Kingston.
"I've never run for anything in my life. I'm humbled," Perdue told supporters gathered at a hotel in the Buckhead section of Atlanta.
Perdue emerged the winner of Tuesday's runoff against Kingston, claiming close to 51 percent of the vote in unofficial returns. Along the way, Perdue dispatched three sitting congressmen to claim the nomination as he crafted a singular message of being an outsider with the business sense needed to tackle the national debt.
The win marked the end of a bruising, nine-week GOP runoff in which Perdue hammered Kingston as a career politician for his 11 terms in Washington, while Kingston argued that voters couldn't trust a self-proclaimed outsider to do what he says he'll do. In the end, voters decided change was needed and went with the political newcomer, whose cousin is former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue.
"With my business career, I will prosecute the failed record of the last six years of (President) Barack Obama," Perdue said in his victory speech. "This fall, we're going to have a clear choice."
Nunn, the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, is considered among the top Democratic recruits in the country and one of the best hopes for Democrats to keep control of the Senate for the last two years of Obama's term. Republicans need to gain just six seats for the majority and cannot afford to lose the Georgia seat, which opened when Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss announced his retirement.
The race will shape up largely as two outsiders battling for moderate and independent voters in a state that has voted reliably Republican in recent years. Perdue blames Democrats in Washington and Nunn emphasizes her independence and commitment to doing what is right. Millions of dollars in outside money is expected to pour in.
Nunn's TV ads have so far focused on introducing her to voters and emphasizing her experience as CEO of the large volunteer organization Points of Light, which was founded by former President George H.W. Bush. Nunn has looked to lay blame on both parties for gridlock in Washington.
"People are awfully tired of the political atmosphere today and what they perceive as a Washington that is just not up to governing, and not willing to put aside party differences and focusing on playing games versus actually solving problems that make a difference for people," Nunn said in an interview.
She reprised that theme in appearances Wednesday, adding a reference to her new opponent.
"My record, obviously, is around building communities, lifting people up, trying to make a difference, working in collaboration with folks from the other side," she said, a tamer version of attacks he's already faced for presiding over layoffs and outsourcing during executive stints at Reebok, Dollar General, the failed textile firm Pillowtex and other companies.
Perdue said he was prepared to defend his record.
"Now you've got two outsiders talking about Washington, and now you get down to the issues," Perdue said. "Let's talk about debt, the economy and jobs and who brings more value to that debate. Someone who has been running a philanthropy for 15 years or whatever, or someone who has been out here, not to go bragging, competing in the real world?"
Immediate challenges for Perdue will be to quickly raise money and rally support among the GOP establishment, which had largely backed Kingston.
One of the first things Perdue did Wednesday was appear with Gov. Nathan Deal and GOP state chair John Padgett. There was little mention of Perdue's anti-establishment message and instead Perdue and Deal, who is also up for re-election, promoted a shared message of economic growth.
Kingston was noticeably absent from the event, but had pledged the night before to work to help get Perdue elected.