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Georgia Senate GOP Runoff Shows Little Southern Hospitality

Georgia Republican senatorial candidates Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah (left) and former Dollar General CEO David Perdue at a debate in May.
David Tulis
Georgia Republican senatorial candidates Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah (left) and former Dollar General CEO David Perdue at a debate in May.

And the winner of the debate between Rep. Jack Kingston and businessman David Perdue, both vying in a runoff to be the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate from Georgia, was — Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn.

During any nomination fight, party officials typically worry that a tough intraparty contest will wind up damaging the eventual nominee, allowing the opposition party's candidate to waltz to victory. With the runoff election a week away, the Republican primary battle is shaping up to be one of those fights.

The Sunday debate found Kingston and Perdue acidly attacking each other over what one journalist on the panel of questioners called "manufactured scandal."

Manufactured or not, the political punches provided ready-made video for attack ads that Nunn's campaign could use against whichever Republican wins the runoff.

Perdue, whom polls show to be running even or somewhat behind Kingston, accused the congressman's campaign of accepting $80,000 in donations from "Khalid Ahmed Satary, a Palestinian felon of the U.S. government and that the government is actually trying to deport," Perdue said. Kingston's campaign had returned the money from Satary, who was convicted in a major music piracy case.

Perdue asked if Satary gave the money to get the congressman's help in avoiding deportation. "It's pretty obvious, if you have money and you want favor or influence, Jack Kingston is open for business," Perdue said.

Kingston, the 11-term representative from Georgia's 1st Congressional District, which includes Savannah, returned fire, alleging that Perdue accepted a "sweetheart, insider appointment" from his cousin, then-Gov. Sonny Perdue, to sit on the state's Ports Authority board. Kingston suggested that that position allowed the former Dollar General CEO to attract business to a trucking company he co-owned.

"In your capacity, you made many decisions that influenced millions of dollars of spending on there and didn't sign a disclosure," Kingston said. "Are we to believe that you did that and your trucking company did not benefit from your select position?"

Each candidate denied the other's allegations, naturally. But the debate was a telltale sign that the two men vying for the GOP nomination were unlikely to end their campaigns on a positive note.

Meanwhile, Nunn was fending off an attack directed at her. National Review Online said recently that the Georgia Democrat attended a Washington fundraiser co-hosted by a man once convicted of federal bribery charges who, in the 1960s, was a Black Panther and at the time uttered negative things about the United States. Nunn's campaign told NRO it didn't know about his past before the fundraiser and disagreed with the man's decades-old comments.

It's a safe bet, however, we'll be hearing more about the former Black Panther once the general election campaign starts the day after the July 22 runoff. A new poll by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling found Kingston leading Nunn by 6 percentage points, 47 to 41 percent.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.