The field in Georgia’s U.S. Senate race grew again Wednesday with the formal entry of Republican businessman David Perdue, yet another political newcomer with a family legacy in high office.
David A. Perdue Jr., 64, of Glynn County, first cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, cast himself as an outsider in a Republican field that includes three current members of Congress and Georgia’s former secretary of state. His long-expected entry into the race came a day after Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, made her debut on the Democratic side.
Perdue is the former CEO of Dollar General and the Reebok athletic brand. In April he resigned from the Georgia Ports Authority governing board — he was appointed by his cousin — to pave the way for a campaign. He has been traveling the state under the auspices of an “exploratory” campaign in recent months.
“The federal government is out of control,” Perdue said Wednesday in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Career politicians have created this. In business they would be held accountable. I just don’t think they can be counted on to fix it.”
Perdue becomes the seventh formal entrant into the GOP primary to replace U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who is not seeking re-election next year. Also in the race are U.S. Reps. Paul Broun of Athens, Phil Gingrey of Marietta and Jack Kingston of Savannah; former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel of Roswell; businessman Eugene Chin Yu of Augusta; and minister Derrick Grayson of Stone Mountain.
Though polls show he has little name recognition, Perdue has ties all over the state. He was born in Macon and raised in Warner Robins. He attended Georgia Tech and launched a business career that would take him as far as Singapore and Hong Kong. Perdue now makes his home in coastal Georgia.
Perdue plans to use his personal wealth to get his name out there, saying he would be the campaign’s “largest investor,” without committing to an amount.
“If we get our message out, we can win this thing,” he added.
Republican pollster Matt Towery of InsiderAdvantage said Sonny Perdue’s eight years in the governor’s mansion gave him the power to make a lot of appointments around the state, and the former governor likely will request that those loyalties extend to his cousin.
“Don’t underestimate Sonny’s political might; it’s stronger than people think,” Towery said. “And, to some degree, David Perdue will be an inheritor of that political might.”
David Perdue said an event with 100 people recently was held for him at Sonny Perdue’s home. Their fathers farmed together, so the pair “grew up barefoot in the fields together,” David Perdue said.
Having never run for office before allows Perdue to play the outsider, but the transition from businessman to politician can be a difficult one.
“It’s a totally different experience,” said Emory University political science professor Merle Black. “You can fire ’em at your company (when they talk back). You can’t fire the other candidate. That can be very frustrating.”
Democrats were pleased to see the Republican field grow. Their long shot hopes of recapturing the seat rest on Nunn’s performance and a damaging GOP primary fight.
“Welcome to the right-wing circus,” said Matt Canter, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee deputy executive director. “This is already one of the craziest Republican primaries in the country, and the one most likely to give Republicans major heartache.”
Perdue said his top issues are fiscal conservatism and the national debt. He’s a believer in term limits, pledging to serve no more than two U.S. Senate terms.
On immigration reform, Perdue said he would have voted against the bill recently passed by the Senate, and he said any discussion of the issue is “counterproductive until we secure the border.”
In addition to the outsider, Perdue is relishing the underdog role.
“It’s a different game,” he said of the transition from business to politics. “The way the game is stacked toward incumbency explains why 92 percent of politicians get re-elected. Then, if I get elected, how am I going to affect change?”
At the same time, he said, “It’s not that different from business. You analyze problems. You develop commonality. I’m willing to work with anyone who will work with me.”
Home: Glynn County
Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Georgia Tech
Occupation: Founder of Perdue Partners LLC, a global training company; previously CEO of Dollar General, among other companies
Political experience: None
Family: Married 40 years to Bonnie; two children