ATLANTA -- The candidates in the Republican Senate runoff sprinted out their final debate Sunday by blasting each other over ethics and the Savannah port.
Jack Kingston accused David Perdue of lining his pockets while taking an appointment from his cousin to the Georgia Ports Authority board. And Perdue warned that Kingston’s connection to a Palestinian businessman awaiting deportation for a federal conviction will wind up being a messy scandal in the middle of the general election against Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn.
Aired statewide by Georgia Public Broadcasting, the debate was organized by the Atlanta Press Club. One of the journalists on a panel questioning the candidates noted how nasty the campaign had been and that neither brought up substantive issue differences between them. They responded by slinging more mud.
Regarding the Ports Authority, Kingston bragged that he had been pushing the deepening of the Savannah River channel to accommodate bigger freighters in hopes of spurring more jobs. He said Perdue never signed a statement required by state ethics laws ensuring that there was no conflict of interest between the authority and a trucking company Perdue owns with his cousin, the former-governor.
“You made millions of dollars in spending decisions on there and didn’t sign a disclosure. Are we to believe that you did that and your trucking company did not benefit from your select position?” Kingston asked.
Perdue didn’t directly respond. Instead, he hammered Kingston about the $80,000 in campaign donations collected by the Palestinian -- subsequently returned -- which have now become the subject of a federal investigation.
“It’s pretty obvious, if you have money and you want to buy a favor or influence, Jack Kingston’s open for business,” Perdue said.
Kingston has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, saying the FBI has told him he is not the subject of the investigation.
The Ports Authority’s biggest project also became an issue between them. Perdue said the 17 years Kingston has been pushing the project for federal approval is nothing to crow about.
“In the real world, you would have been fired for that kind of performance. Now you want a promotion,” Perdue said.
Kingston told reporters after the debate there was a reason Perdue did not lobby for the harbor deepening or even sign a letter in favor of it.
“He wants to lecture me on why the harbor deepening wasn’t done faster,” Kingston said. “Well, perhaps because as a board member, he was chasing his own interest rather than the interests of the people of Georgia. ... Where was my opponent? He was a member of the Georgia Ports Authority, doing business, lining his own pockets.”
It was the most hostile personal confrontation between the two men, although they and well-heeled political action committees have been airing the same charges in television ads for weeks. Both predicted they would be turning out their supporters and would come out ahead when the votes are counted July 22.