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Former Dollar General CEO David Perdue gains momentum in Georgia's U.S. Senate race

Posted: March 30, 2014 - 12:10am

As the May 20 primary election looms ever closer, it might come as surprise to some that the candidate who appears to be rising to the top of the supersaturated U.S. Senate field is not one of the usual suspects, but a political newcomer.

In the most recent poll commissioned by WSB-TV Channel 2 in Atlanta, former Dollar General CEO David Perdue has taken the lead from the sitting Congressmen who have been expected to vie for the seat being vacated by Saxby Chambliss.

The poll, released this week by Landmark Communications and Rosetta Stone Communications, was conducted March 23-24 among 600 likely GOP primary voters. It has a 4-point margin of error, according to the news release.

Perdue leads the pack with 21 percent of the vote, while both U.S. Reps. Jack Kingston and Paul Broun are tied with 15 percent each. Support for U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, who previously led in most Georgia statewide polls, appears to be waning. His numbers have dropped to 12.5 percent in the latest poll.

Former Secretary of State Karen Handel trails the field with about 10 percent. Handel did pick up the endorsement of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin this week, but who’s to say whether that will hurt or help her in future such polls. (In my mind, Palin bestowing a blessing on someone’s candidacy is akin to soldiers bestowing smallpox blankets on Native American villages.)

No surprise here, but money seems to be a factor in Perdue’s changing fortunes. Pollsters attribute the surge to his spending more than $1 million in early advertising.

“It’s clear that Perdue’s strategic decision to invest in an early television media buy is paying off,” said Mark Rountree, the president of Landmark Communications in the news release. “His ads have had an impact on voters. In fact, the two candidates who have invested in television ads, Perdue and Kingston, have seen the largest increase in support among voters.”

Kingston also has been spending big on ads, about $800,000 by some accounts, but his ads don’t appear to have as big of an impact – at least on poll numbers.

Whether this surge has any staying power remains to be seen. John Garst, the president of Rosetta Stone Communications, said Perdue’s money had purchased him a lot of “instant name identification,” but not much else.

“His numbers are a steady 20 percent across all demographic and geographic lines,” he said. “He has no obvious base of support among any one particular group.”

That lack of a strong base could turn out to be the clay feet on this campaign come election day. Polls are good indicators of wind direction, but unless Perdue has the organization to get supporters to the polls, he might find himself adrift come May 20, while Kingston and Broun sail into what is certain to be a runoff.

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