Facing a new and damaging attack on his jobs record a month before election day, Georgia GOP Senate candidate David Perdue and his allies have settled on a hard-knuckle strategy: accept the hit and strike back by talking about Obama.
Perdue defended recently unearthed comments he made during a 2005 court case that he spent “most” of his career outsourcing, saying this week that he was “proud” of his work as a businessman and politician. When his opponent, Democrat Michelle Nunn, bashed him in a new ad titled “In His Words” Tuesday, Perdue released one of his own soon thereafter saying that Nunn has been “hiding” her support of President Barack Obama’s “job-killing, big government policies.” That night in a rowdy debate, Perdue labeled Nunn’s moves on the outsourcing issue a “false attack” and said the government had “decimated entire industries.” On Thursday, the Nunn campaign created a new website and video dedicated to hammering Perdue over the outsourcing comments.
Georgia Republican strategists have provided Perdue cover, echoing the refrain that Nunn, if elected to the Senate, would be a proxy for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama. In a race that could determine who controls the Senate majority, that just might work.
“David Perdue is focused on making this election a choice about what direction the Senate and thus the country is going,” says Georgia GOP strategist Joel McElhannon. “With a Perdue vote, one opposes Obama and Reid’s agenda. With a Nunn vote, one supports it. That’s a very simple, focused choice he is presenting to the voters. It’s powerful and it works.”
“President Obama is about as popular as Ebola in Georgia right now,” he adds.
“The whole campaign is not going to focus on this particular [outsourcing] issue; I think you have to look at the whole picture,” says Eric J. Tanenblatt, who has helped raise money for Perdue, but also worked for Hands on Atlanta, a volunteer service organization, with Nunn. “I did think that David really drove home [in Tuesday’s debate] what I believe is the key issue in this campaign—that we don’t need to continue down the path of Harry Reid and Barack Obama. Electing Michelle Nunn, while she claims to be independent…she is still a Democrat and will be a part of the Democratic caucus.”
Nunn’s campaign for its part sees that the tie-in to Reid and Obama is problematic. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won Georgia by nearly 8 points in 2012; Nunn has been around 3 points behind Perdue for months, according to Real Clear Politics. (Although, as the New York Times‘ Nate Cohen pointed out Wednesday, those polls could be underestimating black Democrats.) Gordon Giffin, the Nunn campaign chairman, calls the tactic “arrogant and dismissive,” but still recognizes the threat.
“I think that the only argument that the Perdue campaign seems to present is the notion that somehow Michelle is associated with President Obama and Harry Reid,” says Giffin. “They don’t address what she has to say about her own views, and that is in some ways arrogant and dismissive. She’s her own person; she’s got her own mind and thoughts.”
“That’s got to be responded to because she, like her father [former Georgia Democratic Senator Sam Nunn] was, is an independent thinker on behalf of Georgia,” he adds. “So that is an issue that has to be dealt with because it is distracting. It really doesn’t go to who she is or what she stands for.”
To counter the Obama drag, the campaign is pushing Nunn as a bridge between the two major parties, someone who understands that the president’s eponymous health care law, for example, needs to be reformed. Of course, they’re willing to use Perdue’s outsourcing comment to help her win.
“Mr. Perdue has made his business record the central qualification that he argues he has to be elected to the Senate,” says Giffin. “The more he’s out there saying you should elect me because of my business record and because I know how to create jobs the more you’ve got to say, ‘Yeah, you know how to create jobs in China and Singapore but not in the United States.’”
Independent analysts and even some Republicans agree that the outsourcing comments could pose a problem for Perdue. Andra Gillespie, an associate political science professor at Emory, says that Nunn’s attacks, in addition to the fact that Nunn and Perdue are “novices” running for an open seat, are “helping to keep the race competitive,” even though the historic voting trends give Republicans “the edge.” Todd Rehm, a GOP Georgia-based consultant, says that Nunn’s populist message has challenged Perdue to “connect his policies with the day-to-day lives of voters.” In such a tight race, Jennifer Duffy, a Senate election expert at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, says Democrats “have to hope” the outsourcing comments make Perdue look like “Romney 2.0—elitist and out for himself” to help fire up the base.
“In 2012, voters in Georgia decided that they disliked President Obama’s policies more than Romney’s shortcomings,” says Duffy. “In 2014, their choice is between Nunn, who Republicans have worked to portray as a proxy for the President and a less-than-ideal alternative in Perdue.”