“I have an entirely different picture of spending,” Perdue said. “In business, you get in these messy turnaround situations. We went to Asia and opened up Sara Lee’s first Asian headquarters over there. If we had lost a lot of money doing that, they would have shut that down, I’d be fired and we’d have gone home.”
Perdue faces longtime U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Savannah) July 22 in the Republican runoff for Georgia’s open U.S. Senate seat. He says Kingston hasn’t faced the same kind of scrutiny as a politician.
“It’s a spending record that’s never been vetted,” Perdue said. “He had some opposition in his district early on, but he’s never been vetted. In my career, every time I took a new job, that board vetted my career from there backwards.”
The runoff winner faces Democrat Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, on Nov. 4.
Both candidates knocked out five other hopefuls during the May 20 primary, including outgoing congressmen Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey. Kingston took 25.8 percent of the statewide vote, while Perdue took 30.6 percent. The seat came open with the retirement of Saxby Chambliss.
Perdue said he’s already knocked three “career politicians” out of the race and has only one more to go. Including Kingston, he said his opponents have a combined 63 years in office.
“If they were going to make a difference, wouldn’t they have done it already?” he said.
Kingston has been in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1993.
Perdue said he won Gingrey’s district, which includes Cobb County, and Paul Broun’s district in the Athens area, even though both men were running against him.
Because of a change to the election schedule, there are nine weeks between the primary and the general election, rather than the typical three-week gap.
“It feels like another race,” said Perdue, who is originally from Warner Robins.
Perdue believes the top issues for Georgia voters are jobs, the national debt and the economy.
“People are really mad. They’re at the point of being fed up,” Perdue said. “They’re looking for somebody to blame, looking for an alternative. When I’m out talking to them — it’s easy for me because I’ve never been in politics — I say ‘What’s wrong?’ It’s an active conversation.”
Perdue touts Georgia’s strength attracting businesses. He said a Caterpillar plant lured to the state in 2013 was a result of the successful Kia plant in West Point, near the Georgia-Alabama border.
“Caterpillar came because Kia had a good experience,” he said.
However, Perdue said countries such as China are “catching up” to the U.S., infrastructure-wise.
“When we built the interstate system in the 1950s and ’60s, we had the best one in the world. We still do, but there are people catching up with that,” Perdue said. “We’re losing our competitive edge.”
Perdue lamented only 10 U.S. senators have a background in business. Even those with business experience have more years in politics than business, he said.
He did point out Georgia’s other senator, east Cobb’s Johnny Isakson, has a business background.
The former CEO of Reebok and Dollar General, Perdue has never run for office before.
One the things he wants to do in the U.S. Senate is reform the nation’s tax structure.
“We have a 35 percent corporate tax rate; it’s the highest in the world. Most places have an average tax rate between 15 and 20 percent,” Perdue said. “A friend of mine just moved his business to Ireland because they have a 12.5 percent corporate tax rate. Somewhere, we have to recognize we have a competitive disadvantage.”
On Kingston’s ‘six-point plan’
Like Kingston, Perdue is not a fan of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. He said more than 60 percent of businesses have stopped hiring or cut back on hiring because of provisions in the law.
Kingston has carved out what he calls a “six point plan” for boosting the economy as a senator. Yet Perdue says it’s the fourth iteration of the plan and has almost the exact same points as earlier versions.
“He had an eight-point plan in 2006. Now he has a six-point plan,” Perdue said. “All six of the points in this plan were in the eight-point plan, and none of it ever happened the last time.”
Expanding on this, Perdue said the entire Republican Party “lost its way” between 2000 and 2008. He hopes to help bring it back on track.
“Where was the landmark health care bill between 2000 and 2008?” Perdue asked. “Where’s the landmark energy policy? Where’s the landmark education reform that works? Where’s the landmark? We didn’t do it.”
On the spending culture in Washington, Perdue said one bill alone had more than 6,000 earmarks for unneeded projects. He added the national debt has ballooned from $4 trillion in 1992 to nearly $18 trillion today.
“I never saw myself the anti-establishment person, but what I do want is to push back on the things that are keeping the economy from growing,” Perdue said. “If that’s anti-establishment, then great. I just saw myself as an outsider and said look, the results in Washington are so bad. I’m running against a man in this runoff that has a 22-year record of spending like a Democrat. His own peers called him ‘the king of earmarks’ at one point.”
The recent developments in Iraq, where a jihadist group called ISIS is working to establish strongholds across the country, are a big concern for both Perdue and Kingston.
Perdue said the original Iraq war, started in 2003, was “off strategy” and the mission’s goals weren’t clear. He said any Americans who are still in Baghdad need to be removed. However, Perdue pointed out it’s easy to view the war in hindsight, saying the public’s view of the war was much different in 2003.
The single greatest threat to national security, Perdue said, is the national debt, which will make defense financing difficult in the future.
“Why is Iran emboldened? Why is Syria emboldened? Why is that guy standing up? Why did Putin think he could step into Crimea?” Perdue said. “I think we have destabilized the world in the last — I’ll go all the way to the last 14 years — but mainly in the last six years, because of our fiscal irresponsibility.”
He said change is needed in Washington.
“We’re borrowing a third of what we spend; it puts the military at risk,” Perdue said. “We now have a Secretary of Defense that’s trying to defund and reduce costs in the military. We have a president who went to the Middle East and he apologized for America.”
On the home front, Perdue pledged his commitment to keeping Dobbins Air Reserve Base open.
“When you look at our strategic location and the major bases in Georgia, each of them is valid and should be growing,” Perdue said. “In the future of our national security, they all have a place.”
Perdue said most of Kingston’s campaign money has come from political action committees and from lobbyists.
In contrast, Perdue said he’s spent $2.5 million of his own money on his campaign and would have outraised Kingston if not for the lobbyists and political groups backing him.
“Over the last 22 years, Jack has raised $9.2 million, and $4.3 of that came from PACs and lobbyists,” Perdue said. “That doesn’t include the direct money paid, like the Chamber’s money. They’re buying ads right now through their PAC. That $3 million is not included.”
The Chamber of Commerce supported Kingston, according to Perdue, even though his views on Common Core and amnesty don’t align with those of the group.
Kingston votes in line with the Chamber almost 100 percent of the time, Perdue said.
“The point is, a large part of the money he’s raised in his career doesn’t come from people who are voters,” Perdue said. “My question is, who’s he accountable to?”
One of Perdue’s big issues is the idea of term limits. Senators serve six-year terms, and Perdue believes two terms, or 12 years, should be the longest amount of time senators are allowed to serve.
“I will fight for term limits,” Perdue said. “Even with Congress’ approval rating at 7 percent right now, we re-elect incumbent politicians over 90 percent of the time. You can see in this race a perfect example of how that can happen.”
Even if Perdue’s term limits idea doesn’t become law, he is personally committing to serve no more than two terms.
“This is not a career for me,” Perdue said.
Other politicians Perdue said he admires are U.S. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
Perdue cited Tennessee’s Bill Frist as a former senator he admires. He said Frist served two terms in the Senate and then, as promised, did not seek re-election. Today, Perdue said Frist is working to fight the AIDS epidemic in Africa.
“Bill Frist is a model U.S. senator,” Perdue said.
Perdue spoke at length about his views on the controversial Common Core national standards.
He said Common Core should be abandoned and went on to say the federal Department of Education should be abolished.
“Almost a third of our kids aren’t getting out of high school,” Perdue said. “There are countries like Bolivia and Peru that are doing better than we are. We’re not preparing our kids to be competitive in a world that, because of technology, has become very small. We have to compete to maintain our standard of living.”
Perdue’s cousin, former Gov. Sonny Perdue, was a champion of Common Core during his later years in office.
But David Perdue said the aim of Common Core has changed since then.
“It’s not the same institution today as it was when the governors got together and said, ‘Hey, we want to create a standard,’” Perdue said.