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Senate runoff: Kingston says being 'local' helps his appeal to independents
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U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston - photo by File photo

STATESBORO — U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Jack Kingston said Friday he has the conservative credentials to appeal to Republicans at this stage but that being accessible and “local” will help him with independent voters.

“I think that people in the Republican primary are looking for a tested, known conservative and also somebody who’s local, who has visited Bulloch County over and over again, has been to Register, has been to Portal, has been to Brooklet and all places in between, obviously Statesboro,” Kingston said.

The question had been, to what extent does the runoff hinge on who is more conservative? In campaign ads and appearances, he and Perdue each have attempted to brand the other as more liberal.

Regarding his conservative credentials, Kingston cited his endorsements from the National Rifle Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The American Conservative Union gave his voting record a 96 percent approval rating.

Second in the May 20 primary with 25.8 percent of the vote to Perdue’s 30.6 percent statewide, Kingston has since gained the support of the third-place finisher, Karen Handel, and the fourth-place finisher, Rep. Phil Gingrey. Other Kingston endorsers he mentioned were former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, conservative commentator Sean Hannity and conservative blogger Erick Erickson.

Kingston, 59, from Savannah, has represented Georgia’s 1st Congressional District since 1993. He currently chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services, education and related agencies. Before his 22 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, he served eight years in the Georgia House.

Perdue, meanwhile, has a background as a corporate executive, including tenures as CEO of  Reebok and Dollar General and on a number of corporate boards. While Perdue attacks Kingston’s long service in Congress  as implicating him in overspending and the almost $18 trillion national debt, Kingston suggests that some of Perdue’s business roles and comments tie him to policies and spending that Kingston opposed.

“When we were out fighting Obamacare, he made the statement that we need a national solution to the uninsured, which is, of course, national health care,” Kingston said. “When we were out fighting the Senate amnesty bill, he said it was a step in the right direction.”

With this last remark, Kingston was referring to an immigration reform bill characterized by supporters as providing a path to citizenship but by opponents as providing amnesty for illegal immigrants. Kingston also asserted that while he, as a Republican in Congress, “was out fighting the stimulus dollars,” a corporation whose board Perdue sat on, Alliant Energy, accepted millions from economic stimulus programs.

In a similar vein, Kingston later added that while he had voted against a bailout for Wall Street banks, Perdue had called it “a decent investment.”

“I believe we need less spending, not more spending … and I’ve never voted for a tax increase,” Kingston said.

The questions asked Kingston closely paralleled those put to Perdue during his Thursday visit. The candidates were not asked to respond to claims they made about each other.

One of the questions put to both was whether the most conservative Republican candidate is really the one with the best chance of winning against the Democratic nominee, Michelle Nunn, in the Nov. 4 general election.

“Well, I think so, the answer would be yes,” Kingston said. “But I also would say, as somebody who’s represented this part of Georgia, I’ve been able to garner independent voters because I do show up for meetings and I am accessible.”

In a reference to his 2012 re-election in the 1st District, he noted that he received 53 percent of the votes in Chatham County, which meanwhile went 55 percent for President Obama.

“So even though I have very conservative credentials, people also know that I’m going to return their phone calls and show up for meetings and try to work for what’s in the best interest of our part of the state,” Kingston said.

He noted his past service on the House Agriculture Committee and said he was the first to advocate in Congress for Savannah’s harbor deepening project, linked to 352,000 Georgia jobs.

Although Perdue held the statewide lead at the primary, Kingston took large majorities in Bulloch and surrounding counties.

“I’ve campaigned in our area but I’ve also had to focus a lot on North Georgia, the Habersham and Rabun counties and the Tennessee line area because we have not been able to afford all the TV that our opponent can buy, so we’re still doing lots of the grassroots stuff,” Kingston said.