Polling has been getting worse for Democrats in most key Senate races lately, but one bright spot for the party has been Georgia. Democrat Michelle Nunn trailed for most of September — but now, five of the six most recent polls have shown Nunn ahead of her opponent David Perdue, boosting Democratic hopes of pulling out a surprise victory here.
Indeed, most forecasting models now show Nunn with a better chance of winning. The Washington Post's model now rates Georgia as the only remaining Senate seat where one party's not hugely favored — a major reversal from its earlier estimate that the seat was 99 percent likely to go Republican. And when the Upshot's Josh Katz listed the five most likely paths to a Democratic Senate majority Wednesday morning, four of those paths included Georgia. Nate Silver concurs, calling Georgia "the Democrats' path of last resort."
How has Nunn defied the apparent national trend? Well, she's been blanketing the state's airwaves with ads attacking Perdue, a first-time candidate and multimillionaire businessman, for the outsourcing he did throughout his career:
Outsourcing became a major talking point for Nunn after Politico was given the transcript of a July 2005 deposition, in which Perdue was asked about his "experience with outsourcing." Perdue responded, "Yeah, I spent most of my career doing that," and went on to describe his work as an executive for Sara Lee, Haggar Clothing, and Reebok, where he focused on production in Asia. There was no new substantive information, as Perdue's business record was well-known, but the language was perfect for a "gotcha" attack ad.
Days after the report was published, Perdue exacerbated his problems when a reporter asked him to defend outsourcing on the campaign trail. He responded that he was "proud of" it. "Outsourcing is the procurement of products and services to help your business run. People do that all day," he explained.
Many of the outsourcing-themed attacks seem to be somewhat tenuous, and meant more to channel general anxiety about the topic than highlight specific misdeeds by Perdue. Indeed, Perdue's tenure at Dollar General, from 2003 to 2007, ended up growing the company and creating more US jobs. His gig before that, at the textile company Pillowtex, was unsuccessful and ended poorly — but the company was already in deep trouble before he joined. Nunn has also hammered Perdue for opposing a minimum wage increase and taking a large pay package from Pillowtex as the company failed.
Perdue wasn't the first choice nominee of many establishment Republicans, who would have preferred his primary opponent, Rep. Jack Kingston. But Perdue distinguished himself from a crowded field by emphasizing his business record (that, and a series of ads portraying his opponents as crying babies). Now, it's that very business record — combined with Georgia's changing demographics — that seems to be hurting him.
A potential problem for Democrats is that if Nunn doesn't manage to win over 50 percent of the vote, the race will head to a runoff in January. (Currently, a libertarian candidate is polling in the low single-digits). That might mean Democrats will have an even tougher time of turning out their voters. It also means that if control of the Senate hangs in the balance, the race would be nationalized — and Georgia's conservative-leaning electorate would be repeatedly informed that if they vote for Nunn, they'd be ensuring that Harry Reid would remain Senate Majority Leader. Nunn's best hope then might actually be for Democrats to lose the Senate decisively on election day, so she can continue framing the race as herself versus Perdue, rather than Reid versus McConnell.