ATLANTA (AP) -- Georgia's Republican Senate primary runoff July 22 pits a multimillionaire businessman who's never held public office against a congressman who's spent more than two decades on Capitol Hill.
Former corporate CEO David Perdue and Rep. Jack Kingston have immediately worked to frame the matchup to their advantage. Perdue, a cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, blasts Kingston as a "career politician" who's already had his chance to tackle challenges like a $17 trillion national debt. And Kingston says Perdue oversells his business record and his conservative credentials.
Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn, meanwhile, isn't waiting for the GOP's July 22 runoff to go on the attack. "It's a race to extremes and represents the acrimony and inflexibility that people are tired of already in Washington," the former nonprofit CEO said Wednesday after chatting with voters at an Atlanta diner alongside Mayor Kasim Reed.
She and her aides said that would be her line of attack regardless of whether she faces Perdue the outsider or Kingston the insider Nov. 4.
The ultimate outcome will help determine which party controls the Senate for the final two years of President Barack Obama's administration. Republicans must pick up a net of six seats for a Senate majority and can ill afford to lose the Georgia seat opened by Sen. Saxby Chambliss's retirement. National Democrats view Nunn as one of their only opportunities to pick up a GOP seat.
She easily dispatched three primary opponents Tuesday as she aims for the seat her father held from 1972 to 1997.
Perdue, the former CEO of Reebok, Dollar General and a North Carolina textile firm called Pillowtex, led seven Republican candidates with 30.6 percent of the vote, according to unofficial returns. Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah was second with 26 percent. Now they start from scratch in a two-month campaign that Democrats hope will be expensive and divisive.
Kingston and Perdue spent Wednesday morning doing media interviews and talking to supporters and the unsuccessful candidates from Tuesday's primary. They had no public events scheduled.
Perdue and Kingston finished ahead of former Secretary of State Karen Handel, Rep. Paul Broun and Rep. Phil Gingrey.
"If we want different results in Washington, we have to send a different type of person to Washington," Perdue said at his campaign party Tuesday night.
Shortly after his celebratory speech, he sent out a fundraising email.
"Our outsider message clearly resonated in this election, and it'll hold true in our head-to-head race," Perdue wrote.
At a nearby Atlanta hotel, Kingston extolled his experience as proof of his conservative credential and accused Perdue of glossing over his business career.
"I know my voting record is a matter of public scrutiny, and you will be hearing about it," Kingston said. "But I will say to my opponent, so is your business record, and we will be talking about that."
He recounted Perdue's tenure at Pillowtex, where Perdue presided over layoffs and left the firm months before it closed. "My opponent says, `Trust me with America,'" Kingston said. "What about those 8,000 Pillowtex employees who trusted their jobs to him and he fired them?"
Perdue, recognized on Wall Street as a turnaround specialist, notes that he took over Pillowtex after a bankruptcy and says the company's eventual downfall resulted from unmanageable pension obligations incurred before his arrival.
Kingston and Perdue both made a point to look beyond the runoff, though, saying the ultimate prize is to help Republicans regain Senate control.
"We are absolutely going to turn this country around," Kingston promised.
Perdue told his supporters, "I've begged you for a year, get me into this general election in November because we will not allow (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid to have one more vote in this United States Senate."
That mirrors the Republican strategy nationally to paint Democratic incumbents, challengers and newcomers as rubber stamps for Obama and Reid.
Nunn said she's already accustomed to that line of attack and she turned it right back to her usual critique of Washington.
"My name is the one that is going to be on the ballot, and I have pledged to be an independent, pragmatic and common-sense leader for Georgia," she said, noting some of her critiques of the Obama.
"I certainly wish the president had invested in Savannah Harbor," she said, referring to a long-delayed Georgia project. "I think the president could have done more with Congress to tackle our long-term debt. I think the president could have engaged more business people in his administration."
But, she added, "I don't' think any of the folks on the other side will say this: We can achieve better results when we work together."