Establishment Republicans in Georgia set for Senate runoff

Brutal GOP primary for Georgia Senate seat heads to runoff as tea party candidates trail but no clear winner

The hard-fought Republican primary for a Senate seat in Georgia was headed to a runoff late Tuesday, with tea party candidates trailing but none of the more establishment candidates clearing the threshold for outright victory.

Millionaire former business executive David Perdue led the polls heading into election day, relying on his status a newcomer to politics and his famous family -- he is the cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue -- to boost him to a runoff spot.

Jack Kingston, the Savannah-area congressman, took the other primary spot, overpowering Karen Handel, the former secretary of state, who lacked the resources of the deep-pocketed Perdue and the well-connected Kingston.

The brutal battle was a preview of the July runoff.

Handel tried to create a come-from-behind surge with her feisty campaign and big-name backers, including tea party favorite Sarah Palin. Handel
pummeled Perdue after he noted she was a high school graduate without a college degree. But the party's established leaders kept their distance.

Taking a more measured approach was Kingston, whose early missteps -- he suggested schoolchildren should work for their lunches -- were smoothed by a pivotal endorsement from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Republican leaders have become more confident they can hold the Peach State seat, made open by the retirement of GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss, after enthusiasm for the more conservative candidates cooled. Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey, both congressmen, appeared out of the running based on early returns.

Among Democrats, front-runner Michelle Nunn easily won the primary. The political novice, who also has a famous family name -- her father is the still-popular former Sen. Sam Nunn -- faces an uphill climb in November, but she hopes to take advantage of demographics that are shifting the red state toward purple. She offers Democrats one of their best chances to pick up a seat in the fall as Republicans try to retake control of the Senate.

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