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Kingston, Perdue make final pitch in Ga. Senate race as volunteers make calls to rally support

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COLUMBUS, Georgia — U.S. Senate hopefuls Jack Kingston and David Perdue hit every corner of the state in one final scramble before Georgia Republicans will choose one of them to take on Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn this fall in one of the nation's most significant midterm election matchups.

Polls are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, with the winner immediately shifting focus to holding retiring Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss's seat in November. The GOP needs six more seats nationally to regain a majority for the final two years of President Barack Obama's term and can't afford to lose conservative-leaning Georgia to Nunn, one of Democrats' few hopes to pick up a GOP-held seat.

The Republican rivals struck familiar themes during stops on dueling tours aboard rented airplanes that took them to airport hangars and terminals from Dalton to Valdosta.

Kingston, an 11-term congressman from Savannah, is making a final appeal that his experience, even in an unpopular Congress, is an asset that proves his conservative credentials and effectiveness.

"We're going to get this job done," he said Monday at Dekalb-Peachtree Airport in Atlanta. "It's about jobs. It's about getting America back to work again. It's about bringing in spending and cutting down the size of our government, and it's about national security."

Perdue, a former corporate CEO making his first run for elected office, repeated his arguments that an "outsider" is the best choice. "We've got a mess up there in Washington," he said in Columbus, "and I think career politicians caused it."

But mostly, Monday's tours were more about thanking volunteers and encouraging supporters than about changing minds or recruiting new voters in what is expected to be a low-turnout runoff.

Just more than 605,000 people voted on May 20, but the campaigns say they expect the second round to draw as few as 450,000. Georgia voters don't register by party, and the GOP runoff is open to any voter who didn't cast a Democratic primary ballot in May. That means there are more than 4.5 million eligible voters.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp said Monday that 159,152 early ballots have been cast, including absentee ballots that have already been returned. That's about 80,000 fewer than the early totals for the initial primary.

Kingston said his team has been focused on getting people to the polls on Tuesday, praising volunteers for making over 400,000 phone calls. "We are finishing strong," Kingston said. "We are not going to stop until the last poll closes."

Derrick Dickey, an aide to Perdue, said volunteers at four campaign offices around the state have been making about 10,000 phone calls per day for the last few weeks, targeting both Perdue's expected supporters and undecided voters.

With the reality of a low turnout comprising reliable conservatives, Kingston and Perdue have tailored their messages during the nine-week runoff period.

Both candidates say frequently that electing a Republican in November is more important than which of them is nominated.

One of Kingston's ads highlighted his opposition to tax hikes, while Perdue answered by highlighting Kingston's previous support of budget earmarks, the now-banned practice of single congressmen and senators inserting special projects into larger spending bills.

Both call for a balanced budget and insist it can be accomplished without tax hikes, instead relying on spending cuts and economic growth — though neither has offered details that would ensure a long-term balanced budget.

More recently, they've gone so far as to suggest they'd be open to impeachment proceedings against Obama, though they've said they have other priorities. Perdue said again Monday that he doesn't want a "distraction" from budget and economic issues.

Kingston and Perdue each leaned on high-profile supporters Monday.

Karen Handel, the former secretary of state who finished third in the primary, traveled with Kingston.

Perdue's cousin, former Gov. Sonny Perdue, was scheduled to appear with him at his final stop in Atlanta.


Cassidy reported from Atlanta.

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