The fabled Georgia writer Sidney Lanier described Georgia covered from “Rabun Gap to Tybee Light.” Jack Kingston is now more than familiar with what Lanier had in mind.
The 1st District U.S. representative is one of seven Republican candidates aiming to replace Saxby Chambliss in the U.S. Senate. His travels around the state Wednesday brought him to Rincon’s Macomber Park to meet constituents and supporters.
“We’ve been hitting 15 to 20 cities a week,” he said. “We’ve been working hard. We’ve been shaking every hand from Tennessee to the Florida line. It’s a big state. I can promise you I know all the roads between Rossville and St. Mary’s.”
Kingston’s district has been centered around his adopted Savannah home, but he also has connections and roots in north Georgia. His travels through the state have revealed to him that voters north of the gnat line have concerns similar to those in the southern half of the Peach State.
“The people of north Georgia worry about a large, intrusive government. They worry that their children will not have the opportunities we have had,” he said. “They want to get the national debt under control. They want a strong national defense.
“There is a strong philosophical commonality between north and south Georgia. You can’t say that until you’ve worked the streets. I’ve heard and listened to people, and that makes a difference.”
Kingston opened his first campaign headquarters in Gwinnett County, and he noted the need to politick in the urban and metro areas. But he also said he’ll continue to visit the more out-of-the-way places across the state before polling day.
“I think it makes me a better potential senator because I’ve done more listening and I’ve had a greater cross-section of the people to listen to,” he said. “I don’t think anyone has ever accused me of having handlers or an entourage surrounding me that they could not penetrate and talk to me. I like that unfiltered access.”
Kingston’s most recent campaign commercials star his aging Buick Roadmaster station wagon — which he drove to Wednesday’s stop in Rincon. And it wasn’t for show, either, he explained.
“They ask, ‘do you really drive that car?’” he said. “I have driven that car for nearly 20 years. Station wagons are great cars, and it’s paid for. The message we want to send is I just don’t talk the talk.”
Kingston is quick to point out that as a congressman, he has cut his own office budget by $1 million and he lopped $3 billion in agriculture spending as chairman of the agriculture committee.
“No one else running can make this claim,” he said.
While some poll numbers have Kingston falling as far as third — should no one gain a majority of the votes in the primary, there will be a runoff July 22 between the top two vote-getters — his money-raising has been tops among candidates. As of March 31, Kingston had amassed $3.4 million in contributions. David Perdue, who has led in most of the polls, has raised $2.38 million. He’s also loaned his own campaign $1 million.
Karen Handel, now second in two polls, has raised less than $1 million, though she now boasts of endorsements by Sarah Palin, Erick Erickson and the Tea Party Express.
“May 20 is the ultimate poll,” Kingston said. “But I know this — you can’t buy a Senate seat. That’s one of the guys is trying to do. This is somebody who bankrupted a company, laid off 8,000 workers and then took a million-dollar bonus to do it. When he talks about his business record, he doesn’t tell you about that. As voters find out about that, they will be less and less inclined to vote for him.”
Kingston, however, has picked up the backings of Sean Hannity, Barbara Dooley and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He also earned an endorsement from former U.S. Rep. John Linder, the founder of the Fair Tax movement.
“I have the support of the Chamber of Commerce because of my stance on job expansion, because of my stance on the port and because of my stance on Obamacare,” he said.
There have been six debates across the state so far, and the seven candidates have one more chance to trade verbal jabs and elbows with each other. They will meet in Columbus on Sunday.
The debates, Kingston said, are better if they are not noteworthy, since that means someone didn’t say anything that would get them into trouble. But it’s also been difficult for the candidates to make their case effectively.
“It’s difficult,” he said, “because you want to be polite and you don’t have a chance, when you’re debating seven people, to get into the details of what somebody says because somebody might say something terribly wrong and six other people will have a chance to rebut. In that case, the debates are terribly frustrating.”
In the Savannah debate, Kingston, with a decided home-court advantage, forcefully took on the issue of flood insurance and quickly tried to separate himself from his opponents. While fellow congressmen and Senate hopefuls Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun said the federal government should get out of the flood insurance business, Kingston said that should not happen. Private insurers won’t write those kinds of policies, he explained, leaving the government as the only option.
“If you pull the federal element out, you would have economic disaster in Coastal Georgia, period,” said Kingston, who has represented Coastal Georgia for 22 years. “David Perdue and Karen Handel didn’t even know what the question was. There is something to be said for having knowledge and having experience. I have the experience and the knowledge and the consistent conservative voting record.”
Kingston touted his conservative bona fides, including a 96 percent rating from the American Conservative Union, an A-plus from the National Rifle Association and the National Journal tabbing him as the candidate with the most conservative voting record. He’s also quick to point to his 53 percent of the vote in Chatham County in the 2012 election, where President Obama got 56 percent of the vote.
“I do that that because I don’t mind engaging with Democrats,” he said. “And I’ve never lost sight of who I was. I have come home to Georgia every weekend.”
However, as early voting continues and Saturday voting is held this weekend at the county elections and registration office and the old Marlow Elementary School, Kingston also is aware that time is of the essence.
“There’s no rest in the final days of the campaign,” he said.