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Tuesday June 30th, 2015 12:46PM

Senate race zeroes in on metro Atlanta, north Ga.

By The Associated Press
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) -- Neither Republican running in Georgia's closely watched Senate race has a natural advantage in metro Atlanta, where the state's most populous area and a ring of northern exurbs are serving as the key battleground ahead of Tuesday's runoff.<br /> <br /> Both Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah and former Dollar General CEO David Perdue have been spending a major portion of their time and money wooing voters along the busy stretches of Interstates 75 and 85 just before they merge south of downtown Atlanta and then as they split off heading for north Georgia and some of the most Republican parts of the state.<br /> <br /> It marks a gigantic "X" on the map, and both campaigns are zeroed in on running up their support in the area. Kingston spent all day Friday in the northern Atlanta suburbs and was back again on Sunday. Perdue has been crisscrossing all of north Georgia and the northern suburbs and exurbs of Atlanta as part of an RV tour launched nearly two weeks ago.<br /> <br /> "It's up for grabs," said veteran Republican strategist Chip Lake, noting that up to 70 percent of GOP primary voters live within the metro Atlanta media market which covers much of north Georgia.<br /> <br /> Certainly, no candidate can ignore metro Atlanta and north Georgia and have any hope of winning a statewide election. But the dynamics of this particular race, which has already garnered national attention as Republicans seek control of the Senate, means the election will likely be won or lost based on what happens there.<br /> <br /> Kingston, a well-liked congressman in his Savannah district, dominated coastal counties in the May primary. Overall, Kingston finished second to Perdue among a crowded field of Republicans. The winner of Tuesday's runoff will face Michelle Nunn, considered one of the top Democratic recruits in the country and among the best hopes for Democrats seeking to keep a Senate majority, and Libertarian Amanda Swafford of Flowery Branch.<br /> <br /> With a competitive primary for Kingston's current seat in Congress, turnout is expected to be strong along the coast and Kingston will have to run up the numbers like he did during the primary when he claimed 78 percent of the vote in his home base of Chatham County. But the coastal areas alone can't carry him across the finish line, and Kingston will have to perform very well in metro Atlanta and north Georgia.<br /> <br /> "Jack Kingston can still win statewide without winning those areas," Lake said. "He just needs to run up his margins on the coast and he needs to make sure that even though he's not winning in those north Georgia counties, he's not losing by a wide margin."<br /> <br /> Perdue, who hails from middle Georgia but has a home on the coast, did very well in north Georgia during the primary, capturing a majority of counties across the area. Although it's his first political campaign, his cousin is former Gov. Sonny Perdue and his campaign and advisers are all veterans of state politics.<br /> <br /> Perdue knows he must build on his primary vote totals and broaden his base of support. Meanwhile, Kingston has smartly collected endorsements from two of their former rivals with broad metro Atlanta support who finished third and fourth in the primary.<br /> <br /> Kingston is banking on those endorsements to help him cut into Perdue's lead, while Perdue has been using those endorsements to hammer Kingston as the establishment candidate who's been in Washington too long.
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