Perdue seeks payoff from Trump loyalty in Georgia runoff
SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) - In 2014, David Perdue introduced himself to Georgia voters as a corporate leader who was able to add pragmatism to a convention that featured in its first television commercial as a bunch of diapered, crying babies.
"Help me change child behavior up there," he asked voters in his US Senate election campaign.
Since then, the Republican, who promised level-headed maturity in Washington, has been embroiled in the tornado of Donald Trump's White House. Perdue became one of the main Senate defenders for a president who is known for being insulted in the schoolyard and still refuses to accept his own electoral defeat.
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Now Perdue is at the center of one of the Senate's most intense races in recent times, fighting for re-election in a runoff election on January 5 that will determine which party controls the Senate. It is an unexpected role for a politician who is described by even close allies as someone who does not arouse strong passions.
"He's not extravagant," said Alec Poitevint, a Georgia businessman and GOP activist who serves as Perdue's campaign chairman. "But one thing is, he's consistent. He never changes."
Perdue fell just under the 50% threshold he needed to finally defeat Democrat Jon Ossoff on November 3rd. Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler is in a runoff election against Democrat Raphael Warnock. If both Perdue and Loeffler lose, the Democrats will control the Senate in the new Congress.
Perdue's runoff campaign has focused on making sure Trump's base comes back for the vote. The Senator has backed the president's failed efforts to cast millions of votes and undo Democrat Joe Biden's victory.
Although Perdue did not repeat Trump's election fraud claims, he backed a failed lawsuit in Texas that sought to invalidate Biden's Georgia win. Perdue also called for the resignation of the Republican Foreign Minister of Georgia, citing unspecified “mismanagement” of the elections.
When the president came to Georgia this month to support the Republican Senate candidates, Perdue had little say. When it was his turn to answer the microphone, the Senator had to ask for an opportunity to speak amid the roar of the crowd of "Fight for Trump!"
When Perdue first ran for the Senate, the family politician was his first cousin: former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, whom Trump later selected as his Secretary of Agriculture.
David Perdue used his leadership experience. As CEO of Reebok in 2001, he was credited with revitalizing the shoe brand. Perdue switched to Pillowtex, but was unable to save the struggling textile company from collapse in 2003. He had mixed results at Dollar General, where rapid expansion doubled stock prices but later hurt profits. Perdue resigned in 2007 when shareholders sold the retailer to private owners.
After Perdue became the boss in the private sector and changed the way Congress does business, he accepted his role as a junior lawmaker and worked mostly behind the scenes, said Jack Kingston, a former Georgia Congressman and Republican. who lost the 2014 Senate area code to Perdue.
"He came to town knowing that it's a seniority system, it's a consensus system," Kingston said. "That you can't just walk in and say," I'm a CEO of a Fortune 500 company and I want this to be done yesterday. "
Perdue's profile rose when he showed an unwavering willingness to defend Trump even before he won the presidency. After the Access Hollywood recording of Trump, who boasted about groping women, appeared in the 2016 campaign, Perdue admitted that "this guy isn't a choirboy." Still, he said the nation needs an outsider like Trump.
Perdue spent the next four years making frequent television appearances as an outspoken ally of Trump.
"We have a person in the White House who is a person of destiny," Perdue told Capitol Hill reporters in 2017, "who arrives at an important time when we need to break some eggs in Washington."
Supporters say Perdue delivered for Georgia. He helped secure $ 973 million in funding to expand Savannah's busy shipping canal and $ 3 billion in disaster relief to Georgia and Florida farmers whose crops were devastated by Hurricane Michael in 2018.
Some wonder if Perdue used his office for personal gain. Senate financials show that trading stocks in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic enabled him to avoid heavy losses and make big profits.
During a debate in October, Ossoff accused Perdue of downplaying the health crisis while "looking after his own fortune". Perdue spokesman John Burke said the Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Senate Ethics Committee all investigated Perdue's trade and found no cause for criminal charges or ethics violations.
Regardless, Perdue's stock trading remains problematic, said Beth Rotman of the bipartisan surveillance group Common Cause.
"It looks terrible for people to get out of Congressional sessions and get rich on their own at a time when Americans are suffering on a daily basis," Rotman said.
Perdue announced in May that its financial advisors would no longer trade individual stocks.
Perdue, one of the wealthier members of the Senate, lives in an enclosed area of Sea Island, a resort town that is one of the richest communities in Georgia. During the campaign, he projects a more homely image, often wearing a blue denim jacket or using social media photos of a casual breakfast at the Waffle House.
Aside from rallies with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, Perdue has tried to avoid the media spotlight. He ducked into the only debate in the runoff election and left Ossoff in front of an empty podium. Bus stops were not published, invitations are limited to loyal supporters.
Perdue declined an interview request from The Associated Press.
Former Republican political advisor Clint Murphy said he supports Ossoff - also because he sees Perdue, who has not had a public town hall since he took office, as too inaccessible to voters.
"The man didn't develop any relationships other than with the donor class," said Murphy, now an independent man who also voted for Biden. “You have a civil responsibility. And I think he totally failed to perform that function. "
If he were re-elected, would Perdue's second term be his last? He has co-sponsored proposals to impose term limits, including two terms for senators that made little headway. Burke said Perdue planned to continue this fight, but did not answer whether Perdue would limit himself unless required by law.
"As far as I know, he will only have two terms in office," said campaign chairman Poitevint. "He's very passionate about term restrictions. Six years in Washington didn't change that."
Associate press writer Ben Nadler from Atlanta contributed to this report.
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