Isakson calls for reduced government in terms of taxes and regulation. Thurmond wants to expand government, in terms of a program credited with getting thousands of Georgians into jobs.
Isakson came up through the ranks of his family's real-estate firm, measuring every economic policy by the way it might affect that small business. Thurmond grew up the son of a sharecropper who had to draw government benefits when times were hard.
One of Isakson's accomplishments in the Senate was passage of a tax credit for first-time homebuyers designed to rekindle the housing market after the collapse that triggered the recession.
"It worked to bring back the marketplace for entry-level housing in America, and it helped us to begin to stabilize," he said.
While the credit was in place, home sales across the country picked up, but the falloff when it expired was noticeable, too.
To move the economy forward, he recommends killing recent Democratic proposals.
"One of the reasons our business is down is because we have an uncertain climate in the United States of America," he said. "Business doesn't know what their tax rate is going to be. Business doesn't know what the mandated cost of health care for their employees is going to be. Business doesn't know what the regulatory authority of Clean Air is going to be.
Thurmond has a different perspective on how to foster economic recovery: Instead of merely paring back its impact, government should be helping the people hurt by the recession. As Georgia labor commissioner, he oversees the state's programs for the unemployed, such as distribution of weekly benefits and job training.
A program he initiated in 2003 called Georgia Work$ is already a model for other states, and he says as senator he can take put that kind of thinking to work for the whole country. So far, 63 percent of participants were offered jobs.
The program provides an average of $100 a week in funds for child care and transportation while employers offer each worker six weeks of unpaid, on-the-job training.
"Many employers are reluctant to hire because of the costs and risks associated with bringing on new employees," Thurmond said. "To help alleviate their concerns, we have expanded our Georgia Work$ training initiative. ... Now all jobless Georgians are eligible to receive six weeks of on-the-job training from Georgia employers."
When the economy was stronger, Thurmond supported a $1 billion moratorium on companies' unemployment premiums.