ADEL, Ga. — Republicans running for Georgia’s open U.S. Senate seat met Saturday for their first debate of the year, largely agreeing on the need to rein in federal spending and repeal the federal health care law while seeking to highlight their varied experiences.
The debate in south Georgia was the first of seven planned before the May 20 primary. Seven of the eight Republicans in the race participated; U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, of Marietta, cited a scheduling conflict.
There was a robust effort by some candidates to draw a distinction between themselves and the three U.S. House members in the race: Gingrey, Paul Broun of Athens, and Jack Kingston of Savannah.
“I thought a lot about getting in this race, and I’m in it because we have a full-blown financial crisis that I believe our career politicians have created,” said former Dollar General and Reebok CEO David Perdue, a cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue. “To get different results in Washington, I think we have to send a different kind of person to Washington.”
Former Secretary of State Karen Handel echoed those comments, saying that “accommodating Republicans” were responsible for too many taxes and regulations.
“Career politicians have just kicked the can down the road,” she said, noting that her record includes cutting the budget of Fulton County when she was head of the county commission. “The individuals on this stage who say they have tried, that’s not good enough. I have cut the budget.”
Art Gardner, a patent attorney, described his opponents as “either of the political class or self-funded millionaires,” then directed most of his argument toward those who have held elected office.
“If you think that everything is great in the government, vote for one of these candidates and you will get more of it,” Gardner said. “If you like the government shutdown and the bickering, vote for one of these candidates because you will get it.”
In response, Kingston sought to use his record to make a case for fiscal responsibility, saying he had reduced his office budget by $1.3 million and passed legislation that reduced federal spending. He said he was not afraid to take votes against his party, telling a story about how then-Vice President Dick Cheney had called asking him to support the federal bank bailout.
“We have 47 different federal job training programs. If one worked, we wouldn’t need the other 46,” Kingston said. “That is what I have been fighting.”