Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s shocking loss to his Tea Party-backed challenger Dave Brat Tuesday has given hope to all GOP candidates trying to score wins as outsiders. One race where a similar dynamic could play out is Georgia’s hotly-contested U.S. Senate primary runoff between Republican Rep. Jack Kingston and businessman David Perdue.
Like Brat, Perdue has run a campaign branding himself as an “outsider” and attempting to appeal to the conservative grassroots while running against an incumbent congressman. Perdue also has an advantage Brat did not. While Brat was vastly outspent by Cantor, Perdue is a millionaire who has already spent over $US1 million of his own money to finance his campaign.
Perdue is clearly eager to capture some of Brat’s mojo for himself. In an email to supporters Wednesday, he referenced Cantor’s shocking loss.
“As we saw last night in Virginia, our outsider message is powerful. The Majority Leader of the House of Representatives was defeated in the primary by a conservative outsider who won with the simple message that 14 years in Washington was enough,” said Perdue. “I believe the improbable victory was a clear rejection on the establishment and career politicians. The same anti-establishment sentiment is being felt all across the country, and on July 22nd we have an opportunity in Georgia to say 22 years in Washington is enough for my opponent Congressman Kingston.”
Tharon Johnson, a Democratic strategist who was National Southern Regional Director for the campaign of President Barack Obama in 2012, told Business Insider Wednesday Perdue could be the next Brat.
“Perdue is appealing to people who voted against Cantor, who are just tired of career politicians in Congress. If I’m Perdue, I look at the results last night, and I see that there’s hope there for me to emulate what happened in Cantor’s district here in Georgia, label Jack Kingston as the establishment candidate,” Johnson said.
Like Brat, Perdue is also facing an uphill battle. As Johnson said, “a lot of the Republican establishment is rallying behind [Kingston]” as they did with Cantor in Virginia. As he faces this establishment onslaught. Perdue seems to be fighting without a key ally Brat had in his corner — the Tea Party.
Juliane Thompson, one of the state’s highest-profile Tea Party activists, endorsed Kingston last month. In her statement Thompson alluded to Perdue’s wealth as she rejected his “outsider” narrative.
“We do not need someone to be another member of the Senate Country Club,” she said.
However, Johnson said he still believes Perdue’s anti-GOP establishment narrative could be a potent threat.
“Perdue can’t be counted out of the race just yet, even without Tea Party support,” said Johnson.
Georgia-based Republican political consultant Todd Rehm disagrees. Rehm told Business Insider he sees little to no potential in Perdue’s future even after Cantor’s loss.
“One lesson from Cantor’s loss is that politicians who lose touch with the voters are more susceptible to attack. Perdue is running, I would argue, the most-detached campaign I’ve ever seen. It’s all TV with little actual voter contact,” Rehm said. “Contrast that with Kingston, who has quickly developed a reputation as being at all the party events, and whose CD-1 constituents thought highly enough of his time in office that they voted for him for Senate at a level of roughly 75%.”
Rehm also pointed out many voters in last month’s Republican primary voted for candidate’s who previously held elected office.
“Perdue’s ‘outsider’ schtick was obviously enough to get him into the runoff, but more than 66% of GOP Primary voters chose one of the ‘typical political insider’ candidates,” Rehm explained.
Kingston’s campaign is also not concerned he will be vulnerable to a grassroots conservative challenge and suffer the same fate as Cantor.
“With the recent endorsements of Karen Handel, Phil Gingrey, and Speaker Newt Gingrich, as well as the continued support of thousands of grassroots supporters, it’s clear that Jack Kingston has what it takes to rally the conservative coalition needed to take new conservative leadership to the Senate,” Kingston campaign manager Chris Crawford said.
The Perdue campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Georgia is a crucial race to watch because the GOP is desperate to take back the majority in the Senate this year. In order to do this, Republicans need to gain six seats. Democrats have identified Georgia as one of only two potential liberal steals along with Kentucky making it a key battleground.
The winner of the runoff between Perdue and Kingston, set to take place July 22nd, will face off against Democratic contender Michelle Nunn in the general election Nov. 4.
Updated at 6:35 p.m. with the text’s of Perdue’s fundraising email.
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