NEWNAN, Ga. (AP) — Georgia Democrat Michelle Nunn has spent the past month hammering away at Republican David Perdue's career as a business executive, making his role in outsourcing jobs a hallmark of her campaign for U.S. Senate.
With fewer than two weeks to go, Republicans think they've weathered the storm and remain bullish on their chances to pick up the six seats they need to regain a Senate majority. But Nunn could yet complicate the GOP's path by squeezing out a victory — or at least force a runoff that would leave the midterm congressional elections unsettled until January.
"I think we've seen the worst of it," said Rob Collins, executive director of Senate Republicans' national campaign effort. "What we need to talk about more is that she would be another rubber stamp" for her party.
Nunn's offensive has forced Perdue to spend time defending his supposed strength — his business record — while taking time away from his core message linking Nunn to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama. Both are unpopular figures in a GOP-run state Obama lost twice.
Obama said in an Atlanta radio interview this week that Nunn's fortunes rested on Democratic turnout at the polls. "If Michelle Nunn wins, that means that Democrats keep control of the Senate. And that means that we can keep on doing some good work," he said on Atlanta's V-103 show "The RCMS with Wanda Smith."
Perdue began a 10-day bus tour of the state Thursday morning hammering that theme. "If you like (Obama's) policies, vote for Michelle Nunn," he told a supportive crowd at a courthouse square diner in Newnan, about 40 miles outside Atlanta. "If you are as outraged as I am, then stand with me."
Nunn, meanwhile, spent the week highlighting Republican opposition to a minimum wage hike and portraying Perdue as an overpaid CEO who mistreated employees.
"We need to ask what David's business career really equips him to do," Nunn said at a campaign stop Wednesday in the suburbs north of Atlanta. "Is it really to serve the people of Georgia?"
Nunn's initial attacks on Perdue's business record reprised an argument made by Perdue's Republican primary rivals. Perdue left Pillowtex, a struggling North Carolina textile company, in 2003 after only eight months on the job and just months before it closed — a collapse that left 7,500 people out of work.
Democrats piled on by touting a legal settlement with female employees who alleged gender-pay discrimination when Perdue led the retailer Dollar General.
Her argument gained steam in early October when Politico published a 2005 deposition Perdue gave in lawsuits stemming from the Pillowtex closure. Asked about his "experience with outsourcing," Perdue replied, "Yeah, I spent most of my career doing that."
Days later, Perdue doubled down: "Defend it?" he said. "I'm proud of it. This is a part of American business, part of any business."
His deposition answer and the words "I'm proud of it" have since played thousands of times on Georgia airwaves. Several polls suggest the race has tightened amid the attacks, though Perdue backers say they haven't seen evidence of eroding support.
"The consumer is the one who created outsourcing. (Perdue) didn't do it," said Mary Hendricks, an interior designer from Tifton who plans to vote for the Republican. "Consumers have demanded lower prices and that requires outsourcing."
For his part, Perdue disputed any notion that he's out of touch.
"People understand that my mom and dad were school teachers," he told The Associated Press in Newnan. "I worked on our family farm growing up. I worked my way through Georgia Tech. At Dollar General, we had an ethos there, a mission to help families get from pay day to pay day. Those aren't just words. I really internalized that ... and created and saved thousands of jobs throughout my career."
Republicans predict Perdue still will benefit from the historical trend of midterm elections producing electorates that are smaller, older, whiter and more conservative than in presidential election years.
But even on that score, Nunn's backers say they're optimistic. New voter registration figures released this week show the overall electorate in Georgia is slightly smaller than in 2012, with whites now making up 58 percent of the state's roughly 6 million voters. That's down from 63 percent just six years ago, when Obama lost the state by 5 percentage points.
Democrats argue that adds to the power of minority voters who make up Nunn's core base of support, while her attacks on Perdue's business record allow her to reach white moderates and independents who didn't vote for Obama.
And even with the president's entreaty on Nunn's behalf, Democrats argued it's Perdue who must spend the closing act trying to excite his base. He will campaign this weekend with national tea party favorites, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, in separate events. And this week he announced an endorsement from the National Right to Life Committee.
Associated Press writers Charles Babington in Washington and Christina A. Cassidy in Young Harris, Georgia, contributed to this report.
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