At their first public face-off in their U.S. Senate race, Michelle Nunn spent most of her time attacking David Perdue, while Perdue spent most of his attacking President Barack Obama.
Nunn said Perdue’s animosity toward Democratic leaders would mean continued partisan deadlock, while she would seek to cooperate with Republicans on issues of common interest.
“It’s been the theme of my campaign,” she said.
Perdue, for his part, presented himself as an outsider ready to bring change, while he painted Nunn as “nothing more than a proxy for Harry Reid and Barack Obama.”
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Republican nominee Perdue and Democratic nominee Nunn met at the Macon Convention Center for a forum attended by several hundred people. Both candidates are seeking to replace incumbent U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. Chambliss announced in January 2013 that he wouldn’t seek a third six-year term.
Nunn and Perdue answered questions on health care, infrastructure, immigration and defense at the 45-minute forum sponsored by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Georgia Association of Broadcasters and Georgia News Network. John Pruitt, former anchor for Atlanta’s WSB-TV, served as moderator.
Following a fried-chicken lunch and the introduction of Gov. Nathan Deal, U.S. Reps. Sanford Bishop, Tom Price and Austin Scott, as well as several other state elected officials, both candidates made opening statements.
Perdue framed the race between Nunn and himself as a contest for control of the Senate. Republicans hope to take control by winning several close races, thus toppling Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, as majority leader.
Nunn immediately went on the attack, accusing Perdue of wanting to perpetuate gridlock by refusing to work across the aisle.
“That sounds a lot like Washington as usual to me,” she said.
Perdue touted his business experience, which he said most senators lack. Dollar General Corp. underwent a “rapid expansion” while he was CEO, as did other firms he worked for, Perdue said. He made no mention of Pillowtex Corp., a bedding manufacturer that was already in bankruptcy when Perdue took the helm, according to Politifact. Perdue stayed for seven months, then left to head Dollar General. Pillowtex shut down four months later, laying off about 7,000. Nunn and Perdue’s former primary opponent Jack Kingston have both run attack ads about Pillowtex.
ISSUES AND ANSWERS
Nunn said her main concern is building consensus on issues, not refighting partisan battles. She said her experience in setting up the Hands On Network, the Atlanta volunteering nonprofit which merged with the Points of Light Foundation, taught her how to find common ground and organize people to get things done.
Perdue said he entered politics out of concern with federal debt -- not just the current $16 trillion, but a coming $86 trillion. That number refers to a 2012 estimate from two former Republican representatives who added up all future Social Security, Medicare and federal employee pension commitments.
“Bad government policies” are the cause of economic troubles, Perdue said, arguing that over-regulation has made a majority of small businesses stop hiring.
The most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report says the private sector added nearly 200,000 jobs in July, but it doesn’t say how many were at small businesses.
Nunn said she agreed with Perdue on the need to lessen regulations and lower corporate taxes. She also endorsed spending on infrastructure and education.
Questioned on health care, Nunn said the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, needs to be amended -- but basically left in place.
Another tier for low-income people needs to be added, along with a tax credit for small businesses and help for Georgia’s rural hospitals, but five years of partisan refusal to accept its existence doesn’t need to continue for years more, she said. Instead, all concerned need to make sure it works in providing insurance to more Americans, Nunn said.
“I do not think that we need to go backward,” she said.
Perdue said his personal insurance policy was canceled, and now coverage is more expensive, which he blamed on the ACA.
“I absolutely think it’s unfixable,” he said. The ACA should be repealed and replaced, Perdue said, touting a 2013 bill from U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., which is mired in a House committee.
Price’s bill would repeal the ACA, give tax credits and deductions for insurance purchases, and allow formation of individual and small-business associations to buy insurance. It includes neither a mandate for coverage nor a requirement for insurers to cover pre-existing conditions, according to the bill summary.
On how to replenish federal highway funds -- historically funded by a federal gasoline tax, but now “running on fumes” as that tax brings in less, Pruitt said -- both candidates said they wouldn’t raise the gas tax.
Perdue said there is $480 billion in “redundant agency” spending, which he didn’t detail, that could be used for other needs such as road work. That’s 92 percent of all non-military federal discretionary spending projected for fiscal 2015, according to the National Priorities Project.
Nunn also said there’s a need to “make choices” and reduce “duplication” of federal programs, but she was no more specific on exactly where to find more highway money.
Pruitt asked candidates’ opinion on Obama’s contemplated executive orders on immigration. Those orders would slow or halt deportation for many of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. Republicans and Democrats in Congress have been at loggerheads on various immigration reform bills, so Obama has said he plans to deal with what he can through administrative orders.
Nunn and Perdue both said they disagreed with Obama’s move. Nunn said she favors a 2013 plan which drew some Republican support in passing the Senate, but stalled in the Republican-controlled House. Perdue blamed Obama’s prior actions for the current situation. He said states should have more control over immigration issues such as admitting farm laborers.
Finally, asked what they’d each do as freshman senators to protect Georgia’s military bases from cuts, both candidates said they’d work with groups such as the 21st Century Partnership at Robins Air Force Base to fight future cutbacks and lobby for new functions to be housed at Georgia bases.
Nunn, 47, served as CEO of the nonprofit Points of Light Foundation and is the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, a Democrat.
Perdue, 64, has held executive positions in a long list of companies, including CEO of Dollar General and Pillowtex. He is founder of Perdue Partners LLC, an international trading company, and is now CEO of investment firm Aquila Group LLC.
Both candidates have roots in Middle Georgia: Perdue was born in Macon and raised in Warner Robins, while Nunn was also born in Macon and spent her first years in Perry.
After a seven-way Republican primary, Perdue narrowly won a July 22 runoff against U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston. Nunn won her four-way primary easily, taking 75 percent of the vote.
Recent polls, as averaged by Real Clear Politics, show Perdue leading Nunn, with Perdue at 46 percent of likely voters and Nunn at 42 percent.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.