July 23, 2014 at 1:00 am

Control of U.S. Senate depends on the South

Attack ads begin after Georgia GOP runoff ends

GOP-Senate hopeful David Perdue greets supporters Tuesday before he won the Republican runoff in Georgia. The U.S. Senate race will shape up largely as two outsiders battling for moderate and independent voters. (John Bazemore / AP)

Atlanta— Within hours of David Perdue’s GOP Senate nomination, the real battle began with supporters of the new Republican nominee and Democrat Michelle Nunn launching attack ads in a general election matchup that will help settle control of the Senate.

Control of the Senate will probably be determined in part by Georgia and the other Southern states; Republicans need to net six seats to wrest the chamber from Democrats. The Georgia seat, now held by retiring Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss, is one the GOP does not want to lose.

Democrats wasted no time launching their first attacks against the businessman who spent at least $3 million of his own money defeating veteran Rep. Jack Kingston Tuesday night. Hours later, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee rolled out a 2½ minute online video that spliced together debate clips of Kingston and other Republican primary opponents attacking Perdue as an out-of-touch executive who enriched himself leading companies that lost U.S. jobs.

Nunn, meanwhile, was targeted for supporting Obama’s health care law and higher taxes in a new ad by the Ending Spending Action Fund, a Super PAC backed by the Ricketts family, whose patriarch, Joe Ricketts, founded TD Ameritrade and now owns the Chicago Cubs baseball team. It denounces Nunn as “the last thing Georgia taxpayers need.”

The contest is one of the nation’s most closely-watched in the 2014 elections, and the prospects of Democrats winning a Senate seat in the GOP-leaning state are tantalizing for Nunn and her party as they defend their Senate majority. But Perdue is running as a Washington outsider and has the firepower of his own wealth behind him, having sunk at least $3 million of his own money into winning the GOP nomination against veteran Rep. Jack Kingston.

“I’ve never run for anything in my life. I’m humbled,” Perdue told supporters gathered at a hotel in Atlanta.

Perdue emerged the winner of Tuesday’s runoff against Kingston, claiming close to 51 percent of the vote in unofficial returns.

The win marked the end of a bruising, nine-week GOP runoff in which Perdue hammered Kingston as a career politician for his 11 terms in Washington, while Kingston argued voters couldn’t trust a self-proclaimed outsider to do what he says he’ll do. In the end, voters decided change was needed and went with the political newcomer, whose cousin is former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue.

“With my business career, I will prosecute the failed record of the last six years of (President) Barack Obama,” Perdue said in his victory speech. “This fall, we’re going to have a clear choice.”

Nunn, the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, is considered among the top Democratic recruits in the country and one of the best hopes for Democrats to keep control of the Senate for the last two years of Obama’s term.

The race will shape up largely as two outsiders battling for moderate and independent voters in a state that has voted reliably Republican in recent years. Perdue blames Democrats in Washington and Nunn emphasizes her independence and commitment to doing what is right. Millions of dollars in outside money is expected to pour in.

Nunn (Akili-Casundria Ramsess / AP)