ATLANTA, Georgia – Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn and Republican David Perdue hammered away at each other in a debate Sunday over Perdue’s outsourcing work and Nunn’s ties to President Obama, just days before voters go to the polls in what surveys indicate is one of the closest races in the country.
The energy outside the debate site was noticeably high, with dozens of supporters lined up around the block cheering on their candidates with Nunn and Perdue signs.
Just as she did in their previous debate, Nunn brought Perdue’s testimony up early and repeated it often on Sunday.
“When, I think about this race I think about a real contrast that we have and it is between someone who spent their life right here in Georgia for 26 years mobilizing volunteers and building communities and someone who, by their own words has spent their career, the majority of it, outsourcing jobs,” Nunn said.
Perdue said some of the outsourcing claims were false and that his work in Asia at companies like Sara Lee entailed production overseas that was not necessarily tied to American operations.
“[The testimony] never says I outsourced jobs, not one time,” he said.
But Perdue has openly defended some unambiguous outsourcing moves in the past, such as his decision to shift clothing production overseas while an executive at Haggar’s to cut costs.
“We very definitely looked at trying to maintain as much volume as we could [in America],” Perdue told msnbc in April. “The problem was if you looked at the cost sheet of a product made in Mexico versus a product made in South Texas … the Mexican product had an advantage.”
While he was not as direct on Sunday, he did suggest that attacks on outsourcing were naïve in the context of broader economic pressures. He noted during the debate that he had successfully added thousands of American jobs as CEO of Dollar General largely by selling cheaper products made overseas.
“At Dollar General we created almost 20,000 jobs in about four years and yet we outsourced almost every product we sold in our stores,” he said. “I am proud of the fact that we helped our customers get from payday to payday.”
Just as Nunn was eager to turn the topic to outsourcing, Perdue was aggressive in trying to tie his opponent to President Obama.
“Now as you support Obamacare, Common Core, higher taxes, amnesty, and the economic policies that have failed and actually generated more people out of work now than at any time since Jimmy Carter, isn’t a vote for you just a vote for Barack Obama?” Perdue asked Nunn.
Nunn said she disagreed with the president on a number of issues, including her support for rapid approval of the Keystone pipeline, her concern about the debt, and her opposition to cuts to defense spending, but favored him on issues like raising the minimum wage.
“I’ve probably spent maybe 45 minutes of my life with President Obama,” she said. “I spent seven years running President George H.W. Bush’s Points of Light Foundation.”
Nunn stressed over and over again her willingness to work with the other side in the Senate, accusing Perdue of being too focused on attacking Obama and Democrats to do so himself.
“I don’t think its about prosecuting the other party, I think it’s about problem solving,” she said.
“When you have a failed presidency you have to prosecute it because we deserve better then we’re getting right now,” Perdue responded. “The problem is when we look at the direction of this country we got to make a hard right hand turn.”
Both candidates come from political families – Nunn’s father is former Senator Sam Nunn and Perdue’s cousin is former governor Sonny Perdue – but are running as an outsiders based on their impressive resumes outside of government. Nunn ran George H.W. Bush’s Points of Light Foundation, a volunteer organization, while Perdue spent decades in business leading companies like Dollar General and Reebok.
Perdue told reporters after the debate that the “hard right hand turn” was “a metaphorical statement, not a political statement.”
Polls show Swafford picking up an average of 3.8 percentage points in the race. She could potentially play a major role even at that level of support, because Georgia law requires a January runoff between the top two vote getters if no candidate cracks the 50% mark on election day.