ATLANTA — Businessman David Perdue has kept Georgia’s open U.S. Senate seat in GOP hands, beating his Democratic challenger on the strength of white voters in the reliably Republican state.
Democrats hoped Michelle Nunn, the daughter of a popular champion of bipartisanship, former Sen. Sam Nunn, would enable them to pick up a seat in an otherwise dismal midterm election.
But Perdue overcame repeated attacks on his business record by arguing that Nunn would be would be a rubber stamp for President Barack Obama.
“I think Georgia made it loud and clear tonight that we are going to stop the failed policies of President Obama and Sen. Harry Reid,” Perdue said in his victory speech. Earlier Tuesday, he said “people who really love America” would decide the election.
Perdue won 55 percent of the vote to 43 percent for Nunn with 93 percent of precincts reporting.
Perdue took 76 percent of the vote in Hall County.
Exit polling showed Nunn won more than half the female vote and the overwhelming majority of black votes, while Perdue won about 70 percent of white votes.
“We have reminded people of what a two-party system looks like,’” Nunn said while conceding defeat.
“At our best, we not only accept the electoral results, but we practice the art of bridge building and reconciliation, and so I offered David my strongest possible support as he works to unite Georgia and to build bridges across party lines,” she said.
Perdue’s outright victory avoids a predicted runoff election and helps cement a new Republican majority in the Senate.
Voters were already treated to 65,000 TV ads during the Senate primary and general election campaigns, a total spend of $42.5 million. Only North Carolina’s Senate race saw more money spent on TV ads than Georgia, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
Anti-Perdue ads featured people thrown out of work when the Republican executive closed factories and outsourced their jobs. Anti-Nunn ads associated her and President Barack Obama with fears about Islamic State terrorism and the Ebola outbreak.
Last year’s retirement announcement by Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss triggered a free-for-all among Republicans but an early consensus around Nunn, which allowed Democrats to spend time and money on a sophisticated tracking system that targeted people who don’t usually vote in midterm elections and might be open to a Democrat.
Other groups focused on registering minorities, resulting in nearly 120,000 new Georgia voters that Democrats hoped to push to the polls to cut into a decade of Republican gains.
Nunn, 47, the CEO of the Points of Light nonprofit, emphasized her work leading the volunteer organization founded by former President George H.W. Bush, who endorsed Perdue. She also sought to keep her distance from Obama, who failed to win Georgia in 2008 or 2012.
But Perdue, 64, the former CEO of Dollar General and Reebok and the cousin of former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, emphasized his four decades as a corporate executive, saying he had the experience to create jobs, boost the economy and reduce the nation’s debt.
Overall, Perdue reported raising $12 million as of Oct. 15, including contributing $2.8 million of his own money and loaning his campaign another $1.25 million. Nunn, who faced little primary opposition, raised $14 million.
Allen McClure, a 64-year-old retired schoolteacher, said he hopes a Perdue victory will help the GOP control both chambers and promote his conservative views on abortion, same-sex marriage and immigration.
“We have a dysfunctional Congress, period,” said McClure. “Harry Reid and his fellow Democrats have been all about stalling techniques rather than performing the functions of the government. If Republicans take control of the Senate, I believe we’re going to have more of those bills from the House voted on and we’ll have some action.”