GOP voters in Georgia decide Senate nominee

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A sign greets voters before they step up to cast their ballot at a polling site, Tuesday, July 22, 2014, in Atlanta. Voters head to the polls on Tuesday to decide the U.S. Senate GOP runoff between Jack Kingston and David Perdue. The winner will face Democrat Michelle Nunn in November. In addition to the high-profile GOP U.S. Senate runoff, voters in Georgia on Tuesday will cast ballots in a number of other races, including four U.S. House runoffs and state school superintendent. (AP Photo)

A sign greets voters before they step up to cast their ballot at a polling site, Tuesday, July 22, 2014, in Atlanta. Voters head to the polls on Tuesday to decide the U.S. Senate GOP runoff between Jack Kingston and David Perdue. The winner will face Democrat Michelle Nunn in November. In addition to the high-profile GOP U.S. Senate runoff, voters in Georgia on Tuesday will cast ballots in a number of other races, including four U.S. House runoffs and state school superintendent. (AP Photo)

A voter casts his ballot at a polling site held in a public library, Tuesday, July 22, 2014, in Atlanta. Voters head to the polls on Tuesday to decide the U.S. Senate GOP runoff between Jack Kingston and David Perdue. The winner will face Democrat Michelle Nunn in November. In addition to the high-profile GOP U.S. Senate runoff, voters in Georgia on Tuesday will cast ballots in a number of other races, including four U.S. House runoffs and state school superintendent. (AP Photo)

A sign directs voters at a polling site, Tuesday, July 22, 2014, in Atlanta. Voters head to the polls on Tuesday to decide the U.S. Senate GOP runoff between Jack Kingston and David Perdue. The winner will face Democrat Michelle Nunn in November. In addition to the high-profile GOP U.S. Senate runoff, voters in Georgia on Tuesday will cast ballots in a number of other races, including four U.S. House runoffs and state school superintendent. (AP Photo)

Poll workers greet voters at a registration desk before casting their ballot at a polling site, Tuesday, July 22, 2014, in Atlanta. Voters head to the polls on Tuesday to decide the U.S. Senate GOP runoff between Jack Kingston and David Perdue. The winner will face Democrat Michelle Nunn in November. In addition to the high-profile GOP U.S. Senate runoff, voters in Georgia on Tuesday will cast ballots in a number of other races, including four U.S. House runoffs and state school superintendent. (AP Photo)

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ATLANTA (AP) — Early returns Tuesday suggest a long night of vote counting in a tight race for Georgia’s Republican Senate nomination between U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston and businessman David Perdue.

The winner will face Democrat Michelle Nunn and Libertarian Amanda Swafford in a contest that will help determine which party controls the Senate for the final two years of President Barack Obama’s administration.

Perdue and Kingston topped five other candidates in a May primary, but neither reached the majority necessary to win outright.

Both candidates greeted their supporters at their respective campaign parties Tuesday evening in Atlanta. Kingston is at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center in Atlanta. Perdue is at a hotel in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta.

Kingston hugged several supporters and talked individually with some of them.

Perdue also acknowledged his supporters and spoke with assembled media. “Let’s get a decision and let’s go fight the Democrats in the fall, that’s what I’m ready to do,” he told reporters. “I have a real peace about this. If Congressman Kingston wins this, he’ll have my full support. I’ll help him prosecute the failed record of the last six years.”

Voter sentiments earlier in the day suggest the fault lines in the race have been clear for weeks, if not months. Kingston supporters like his experience after 11 terms representing southeast Georgia in Congress. Perdue voters say it’s time for something different.

Perdue led the primary in May, but both men fell well shy of the majority necessary to win outright. The winner faces Michelle Nunn, one of the few chances for Democrats to pick up a Republican-held seat this fall as the party tries to maintain its majority. Also on the November ballot is Libertarian Amanda Swafford, a former councilwoman from Flowery Branch.

Republicans, meanwhile, know they can ill afford to lose retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ seat if they hope to elect the six additional senators they need to run the chamber.

Kevin and Nancy Langston of Marietta both backed Kingston over Perdue.

Nancy Langston, a 43-year-old business systems analyst, said she’s unhappy with Congress and the president. There’s a temptation to go with someone new, she said, “But without a record, it’s hard to put your finger on somebody.”

Her husband, a 53-year-old payroll coordinator, also said he was comfortable with Kingston’s record in Congress. Kingston often cited his 90-percent plus ratings from groups like the American Conservative Union, National Rifle Association and National Right to Life. He also boasted an endorsement, along with more than $2.3 million in advertising, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Langstons are among the Republican voters who were up for grabs after supporting someone else in May. They both backed Rep. Paul Broun, who finished well behind Kingston and Perdue. About 263,000 of the 605,000 primary voters cast primary ballots for one of the five candidates who finished outside the runoff.

Kingston and Perdue aides say they expect fewer than 500,000 ballots for the runoff, though some early returns indicate that turnout might actually improve over the first round.

In Columbus, Perdue supporter Mary Sue Polleys said she’s been with Perdue since researching all the candidates early in the campaign.

“I’ve been worried about our country for several years now,” said the 70-year-old former school board member. “And you just can’t listen to David talk about his ideas and his experience without being taken in.”

Polleys said Perdue’s business success at Reebok and Dollar General — and even his experience at the failed textile firm Pillowtex — demonstrates a leader who can tackle serious problems in big organizations. It also makes Perdue the stronger candidate against Nunn, she said.

Nunn and Perdue, Polleys said, both have an “outsider” message, but she argued that Perdue’s resume trumps Nunn’s work leading Republican President George H.W. Bush’s Points of Light foundation.

“She’s a nonprofit CEO. He’s a for-profit CEO. Everything she’s done depends on people like him,” Polleys said.

The nominee will immediately have to come up with more money for the general campaign. Nunn has raised more than $9 million so far and recently reported having $2.3 million left to spend. Kingston reported a balance of about $1.2 million, while Perdue said he had less than $800,000.

Associated Press

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