On Tuesday, Georgia voters will decide the fate of their senior Senator. Republican David Perdue, 70, finds himself in a tight race against Democratic rival Jon Ossoff. The two were forced into a January runoff after falling short of the 50% needed to win outright.
Perdue, a former Fortune 500 CEO, is one of President Trump’s most vocal allies in the U.S. Senate and is the only one of the four Georgia Senate candidates who has ever won an election in his own right. He is also the cousin of outgoing Trump Agriculture Secretary and former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue.
In 2014, Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss announced that he would not run for a third term, citing his frustration with Washington. A crowded field of Republicans lined up to run for his seat, including 3 Republican congressmen, former Secretary of State Karen Handel.
But one candidate led the field by touting his outsider experience and business record: David Perdue. At the time, Perdue had never run for elected office before, so the Republican primary was his first real brush with politics. In his first ad, he called all of his opponents career politicians and criticized the ‘childish behavior’ in Washington. “If these politicians knew anything about the free enterprise system and knew how to make a difference, wouldn’t they have done it already,” he asked in the ad. Perdue ended up finishing first in the Republican primary, but was forced into a runoff with the second-place finisher, Congressman Jack Kingston, after no one received more than 50% of the vote. Perdue narrowly prevailed over Kingston, with nearly 51% of the vote to Kingston’s 49%.
Democrats, meanwhile, quickly rallied behind Michelle Nunn. The daughter of a former Sen. Sam Nunn, she was the CEO of a nonprofit organization called Points of Light, which was founded by President George H.W. Bush in 1990. The general election was a battle between two candidates who had never held elected office before, though they both came from dominant political families. Throughout the campaign, Perdue attempted to link Nunn with prominent Democrats in Washington, such as Barack Obama and Harry Reid. He said that Nunn would “fit right in” with career politicians in Washington. Nunn attempted to make light of Perdue’s record as a businessman, saying that he has a history of “outsourcing” jobs to other countries. She also tried to appeal to moderate voters by saying that she has a history of working with both parties. In the general election, Perdue ended up winning by 8 percentage points, with 53% of the vote to Nunn’s 45%.
This year, Perdue faces a challenge from Jon Ossoff, a 33-year-old documentary filmmaker and former congressional candidate. Perdue and Republicans have mocked Ossoff’s thin resume and his age. Perdue has tried to tout the stimulus bill and has said that Ossoff would put Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in charge. Democrats have also attacked Perdue over some stock transactions that he made after receiving a coronavirus briefing. He was also accused by critics of mocking Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris’ name at a Trump rally in Macon right before the general election.
In November, Perdue fell short of winning the election outright. He took 49.7% of the vote to Ossoff’s 48%. A Libertarian candidate, Shane Hazel, took about 2.3% of the vote. The runoff campaign has been bitter and expensive, with hundreds of millions of dollars in outside money pouring into the state. Several high-profile politicians are set to stump for their party’s candidates in the closing days. Perdue was set to appear at a rally with President Trump on Monday, though that is now up in the air after the Senator came into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. He and his wife announced that they are preparing for “a whole lot of virtual campaigning.”
Much like the special election, this race is coming down to the wire. Both parties are preparing for a very close outcome on Tuesday. Will Senator Perdue be able to beat back the hundreds of millions of dollars being spent against him, or will Ossoff prevail and become the youngest Senator in 4 decades?