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Ga. Senate Race Is Surprisingly — And Expensively — Close


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. The campaigning is almost over, and voters are already mailing in their ballots with others soon going to the polls. It is do or die for the candidates and their campaign staffs, who've been lugging countless hours for months, sometimes years leading up to this Tuesday. In a moment, we'll take you inside the lives and minds of the people who get the glory when a candidate wins and when they lose, take the blame - campaign managers.

But first, we focus on one pivotal race. It's happening in Georgia, and whoever wins could tip the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. Georgia Public Broadcasting's Sarah McCammon has the story.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: On the campaign trail this week, Republican Senate candidate David Perdue got a little help from a familiar face in politics.


MITT ROMNEY: David is going to be a great senator. This is a man of great character. It's a man who knows how the economy works.

MCCAMMON: Yes, that's Mitt Romney, the former Republican presidential nominee. He's been stumping for Perdue. In this video from The Augusta Chronicle newspaper, Romney and Perdue, both tall and graying in jeans and button-down shirts, greet an enthusiastic crowd. Like Romney, Perdue is a businessman turned politician, and he's promising to create jobs. But also like Romney, Perdue has been attacked in his campaign by critics for outsourcing jobs. Here's how he responded to an Atlanta TV reporter.


DAVID PERDUE: Well, defend it - I'm proud of it. I mean, this is a part of American business, part of any business. I mean, outsourcing is the procurement of products or services to help your business run. I mean, people do that all day.

MCCAMMON: His Democratic opponent, Michelle Nunn, has seized on that label, contrasting Perdue's record as a corporate executive with hers as a nonprofit leader.

MICHELLE NUNN: I've spent my entire trying to make a difference in people's lives by working together. And, you know, David Perdue's record has been one that's been, in his own words, focused on outsourcing jobs and sending them overseas.

MCCAMMON: The outsourcing issue may have hurt Perdue and given his Democratic challenger a boost at a time when Georgia has the worst unemployment rate in the nation, says Savannah State University political scientist Bruce Mallard.

BRUCE MALLARD: You would think we were back in 2012 and talking about jobs, jobs, jobs in this race. But the outsourcing has sort of struck a nerve with people who are told at the same time that unemployment here is pretty high. And so she's gotten some mileage out of that. Theoretically, it should have been his to run away with in demographics.

MCCAMMON: Republican voters are still a majority, even though Democrats have been making gains in minority voter registration. Nunn's biggest obstacle is being a Democrat in this conservative state. And her opponents are eager to associate her with President Obama. Perdue told a crowd in Savannah this week that she would be a rubberstamp for the president.


PERDUE: Barack Obama wants Michelle Nunn to go to Washington and fight for him. I want to go to Washington and fight for you.


MCCAMMON: Nunn, like many Democrats running in red states, is promising a bipartisan approach that will get things done in Washington. That message resonates with her supporters like Teresa Sutton of Savannah, who identifies herself as an independent who leans Democratic.

TERESA SUTTON: And I think that if anybody can make changes, it's going to be women in the Congress.

MCCAMMON: Sutton says she also likes Nunn because she likes her father, former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, a Democrat who is still well-regarded in Georgia. She remembers when he was first elected to the Senate in the early '70s.

SUTTON: And that was when campaign ads were a lot nicer than they are now.

MCCAMMON: But for many conservatives Georgia voters, Perdue's corporate record would set him apart in Congress. Don Hodges runs a steel construction business in Savannah.

DON HODGES: Most of them are attorneys so we need more businessmen running this country who understand how business operates and how - why jobs are sent overseas is because is businesses can't compete here with the tax rates that we have today.

MCCAMMON: Georgia's Senate race is among the most expensive in the nation, and it may not be over on Tuesday. A libertarian candidate who's also running could prevent either Nunn or Perdue from getting more than 50 percent of the vote. Under Georgia law, that would mean a runoff in January. And that would leave the seat and possibly control of the Senate up in the air until early next year. For NPR News, I'm Sarah McCammon in Savannah, Georgia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
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