JEFFERSON, Ga. — Former CEO David Perdue has hammered Rep. Jack Kingston as a business-as-usual politician the race for Georgia's open Senate seat, offering himself as an outsider with the business sense needed to end the frequent stalemates in Washington.
Kingston, however, has to gamble that voters will prefer a veteran lawmaker with a history of steering money back home during his two-plus decades in Congress. The congressman hasn't shied away from his time in office, despite widespread dissatisfaction among voters nationwide — Congress' approval rating hasn't topped 20 percent since late 2012.
"What I do like about Kingston is that he already has the connections up there. If Georgia needs something, he's already going to know what to do," said poultry and cattle farmer Greg Wells, 47, of Maysville. "What I don't like is the fact that he's been there so long."
Wells said he remains undecided on how he'll vote.
Kingston is generally popular in his home district of Savannah, but the challenge will be persuading voters elsewhere that he isn't part of the problem.
"Jack has to go make a case to the electorate of, 'Even though I have been in Washington for 20 years, here is why I am best capable to go to the Senate and have a louder voice to fix these problems,'" said veteran Republican strategist Chip Lake.
On one hand, Kingston has earned numerous endorsements, including from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and even from state tea party activists. He's also dominated in fundraising. But his congressional resume may be a liability for some voters. Last year, he voted against raising the cap on what the federal government can borrow, known as the debt ceiling, as part of a deal to end a partial government shutdown.
"It was purely politics," retired Gainesville businessman Gene Cobb said of the vote. The onetime Kingston supporter said that vote prompted him to back Perdue instead. "It's business as usual, and I think the country is tired of it."
The race for Georgia's open Senate seat has garnered national attention as Republicans seek control of the Senate. Democrats see Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, a moderate who represented Georgia for years, as one of their best hopes nationally to keep a Senate majority.
Nunn has also been portraying herself as something of an outsider, touting her experience overseeing a major volunteer organization and a commitment to work across party lines in the interest of Georgia. The primary could be a preview of what's to come if Kingston earns the nomination and his congressional record faces continued scrutiny and attacks.
Across the state, Republican primary voters say they are upset about the seeming inability of lawmakers to do anything to address the major issues facing the country such as the federal debt, health care, immigration and taxes.
They disagree on what kind of candidate it will take to fix it.
Some, like 71-year-old Stuart Cowan of Gainesville, say it's time for drastic change. He cast an early ballot for Perdue.
"I don't know if he can do it but we've got to start with conservative ideas and fresh faces," he said.
Others say Kingston's seniority in the House will carry over somewhat to the Senate. He is the chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee and could be positioned to earn a spot on the Senate Armed Services Committee, a key post given that Georgia is home to large military posts.
"It's not easy getting things done in Washington. The way you get things done, is you've got to know people there," said Kingston supporter Eddie Ausband of McDonough. "It takes relationships to get things done in Washington."
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