Georgia Republicans to vote on U.S. Senate nominee after long fight

ATLANTA Tue Jul 22, 2014 4:56pm EDT

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ATLANTA (Reuters) - A drawn-out fight between an 11-term congressman and a former Fortune 500 chief executive in a key U.S. Senate race is due to be decided by Georgia's Republican voters on Tuesday.

U.S. Representative Jack Kingston and David Perdue, former CEO of Reebok, Dollar General and Pillowtex, have traded jabs and tried to coalesce Republican support since emerging from a crowded primary field in May.

Republicans consider it crucial to hold on to the seat, currently held by retiring Republican Saxby Chambliss, as they push to retake control of the Senate.

The runoff is the longest in Georgia history after a federal judge ordered the state to move up the date of its primary election to allow more time for military and absentee ballots to be cast.

Polls close at 7 p.m., and turnout for the close race appeared to be light on Tuesday, state election officials said.

Kingston, 59, of Savannah, has worked to convince voters that his 21-year tenure in Congress is a strength despite low approval ratings for its members. He portrayed Perdue, who lives on Georgia's exclusive Sea Island, as a wealthy elitist.

Perdue, 64, criticized Kingston as a Washington insider who voted to add trillions to the national debt and to raise his own pay seven times.

When Kingston questioned the propriety of Perdue's 2010 appointment to the Georgia Ports Authority by his cousin, then-Governor Sonny Perdue, his opponent fired back that Kingston had not been able in 17 years to get the Port of Savannah deepened.

Voters were split about whether a political veteran or newcomer would best serve them.

“Experience matters,” said Kingston supporter Taton Thompson, 24, of Savannah. “When you go to Washington, you need to know what to do, you need to know how to pass legislation.”

Don Cole, 60, a self-employed businessman from Cordele, said he wants a senator who has not been influenced for years by lobbyists.

"Perdue comes in with a fresh perspective and he’s not tied down by all that," Cole said.

Perdue and Kingston beat more conservative Tea Party candidates in the May 20 primary, drawing nearly 31 percent and 26 percent of the vote, respectively.

Analysts say either man will be a strong challenger to well-financed Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn, former chief executive officer of President George H.W. Bush's Points of Light organization and daughter of onetime U.S. Senator Sam Nunn.

Georgia has not elected a Democratic senator in 14 years.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Bill Trott and Eric Walsh)

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