With barely a week to go before Georgia Republicans hold their primary to select a nominee for the seat of retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss, last-minute signs are strong that the critical one-two spots in the race will go to millionaire businessman David Perdue and Rep. Jack Kingston.
Kingston, a long-time Newt Gingrich ally, has strong conservative grass-roots support, but Perdue is spending heavily, making the race a dog fight.
In a primary with five heavyweight contenders, no observer of Peach State politics expects either Perdue or Kingston to win the 50 percent-plus-one-vote needed on May 20 to avoid a runoff in July.
The winner of the runoff will face Democrat Michele Nunn, businesswoman and daughter of revered former four-term Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga.
For national Republican leaders, the scenario of a Perdue-Kingston runoff usually leads to collective sighs of relief.
Both contenders are considered conservative. Perdue, CEO of Dollar General, has voiced right-of-center stands on most issues.
Kingston has a long track record as a conservative – and is rated 100 percent by the National Right to Life Committee, has an A+ grade from the National Rifle Association, and has just been endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The betting is that whoever wins the GOP primary will be able to keep Chambliss' Senate seat Republican.
It is no secret that Democrats and not to mention the liberal press salivated for the prospective nomination of Reps. Phil Gingrey or Paul Broun, physicians who have a history of incendiary statements.
One of three OB-GYNs in Congress, Gingrey of Cobb County created a stir two years ago when he said that then-Rep. Todd Akin, a Missouri Republican, was "partly right" when he said women can avoid giving birth in cases of "legitimate rape."
Broun, a U.S. Marine veteran and Augusta physician, Broun makes no bones about saying he feels evolution is an untruth that came from "the pit of hell."
Broun "tells it like a lot of other people don't see it," Bill Shipp, longtime political editor of the Atlanta Constitution, told Newsmax. "There are no ambiguities with him."
Now 81 and retired, Shipp said the thought of Broun as the Republican nominee "is enough to make me come out of retirement and cover him."
But the latest surveys suggest Shipp will be staying retired.
According to a recent McLaughlin poll, Kingston has the support of 20 percent of likely GOP voters, Perdue 17 percent, former Secretary of State Karen Handel 14 percent, Gingrey 13 percent, and Broun 8 percent.
In a new SurveyUSA/11 Alive poll, Perdue leads Kingston among likely Republican primary voters, 26 percent to 20 percent, followed by Handel with 15 percent, Broun 13 percent, and Gingrey 6 percent.
The “wild card” in the race could be Handel, who narrowly lost a bid for governor in 2010 to current GOP Gov. Nathan Deal. In recent weeks, Handel has picked up endorsements from the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List and Erick Erickson of Red State.
Money is not a problem for either Perdue or Kingston. Perdue has been able to raise close to $2 million with his personal wealth and through his own business contacts and those from his cousin, former GOP Gov. Sonny Perdue. Days ago, businessman-candidate Perdue lent himself another $1 million to fuel his campaign in the twilight days of the primary.
Kingston, a Member of the House Appropriations Committee, has raised more than $1 million through the last quarter of the reporting period. In addition, his recent endorsement from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is expected to give him significant last-minute support.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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