ATLANTA — The crowded field of well-known and well-financed Republicans vying for an open U.S. Senate seat in Georgia grew by one more Wednesday with businessman David Perdue saying that he will run.
The decision by a cousin and business partner of former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue had been expected after he announced in May that he was forming an exploratory committee. Still, Perdue is expected to shake up the race given his personal wealth.
The former CEO of Dollar General and Reebok said in an interview with The Associated Press that he was motivated to run, citing concern for the nation’s rising debt, high unemployment and spending.
“I just think we deserve better than we are getting from our elected officials, and I couldn’t sit back and watch it continue to happen,” Perdue said.
Perdue moved quickly to position himself as an outsider in a race that includes three U.S. congressmen – Reps. Paul Broun of Athens, Phil Gingrey of Marietta and Jack Kingston of Savannah. It had been a spot claimed by former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, who is also running. It now appears Perdue will mirror that message with an emphasis on his business credentials.
“My message is totally unique compared to the other career politicians in this race,” Perdue said. “I know what it takes to develop economic growth globally and there are not that many people in Washington who know how to do that.”
Perdue, 63, said he has spent his career creating jobs and wants to expand U.S. exports and reduce regulations. He served as senior vice president of Asia operations for Sara Lee, establishing the company’s first headquarters in Asia. At Dollar General, Perdue said he oversaw the company’s expansion to 8,500 stores nationwide.
Perdue, who is married with two sons, said he will be investing some of his money in the race but will still be looking to donors to help finance the campaign.
On the issues, Perdue said he is opposed to abortion in all cases except when the mother’s life is in danger. He opposes gay marriage and said the country should enforce current immigration laws and focus on securing the border. He also backs term limits for the House and Senate and pledged to serve only two terms if elected.
“The primary objective for folks in Washington is to get re-elected, that is why you have seen the partisanship you have today,” Perdue said. “I think the founders intended for folks to go up and do their best to solve the problems of the day and then go home.”
Perdue maintains a close relationship with his cousin, the former governor. The two founded an Atlanta-based global trading company, Perdue Partners LLC, after the governor left office. While in office, the governor had faced some criticism for appointing David Perdue to the board of the Georgia Ports Authority.
GOP strategist Eric Tanenblatt, who served as finance co-chair for the Romney campaign, said Perdue will need to use his money and business background to overcome his lack of political experience and name recognition. But Perdue and Handel can take advantage of how unpopular Congress is, he said.
“She and David Perdue have the opportunity to run against Washington, which I think is going to be a benefit to them in this climate,” Tanenblatt said.
Earlier this week, Michelle Nunn became the first high-profile Democrat to enter the race and will also be touting her outsider experience as CEO of Points of Light, one of the nation’s largest volunteer organizations. Nunn is the daughter of former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, who represented Georgia for 24 years.
The race in Georgia has quickly become one of the most closely watched in the country as Republicans push to win control of the Senate. While Republicans have the advantage in Georgia, Democrats are hoping Nunn can make inroads in a state they once dominated and where changing demographics present an opportunity.
Either way, the race is expected to draw interest and money from around the country.
So far, Kingston and Gingrey have demonstrated a strong ability to raise money and were able to transfer money from their House campaign accounts that have been steadily growing in recent years as the congressmen have faced little opposition. Each has about $2.5 million in cash.
Broun, meanwhile, has $400,000 and Handel reported raising about $154,000 in the six weeks since she announced her campaign.
Earlier Wednesday, the Nunn campaign said it had raised $79,000 from online donors in the 24 hours since Nunn announced. The Handel campaign was also busy, launching a “Donate to Defeat Nunn” page on her website and e-mailing supporters a photo of Nunn with President Obama.