On the eve of the GOP national convention in Cleveland, Georgia’s senators, both Republicans, are approaching the party’s coronation of Donald Trump on markedly different trajectories.
Sen. Johnny Isakson is the established two-term insider trying to hold his seat in the face of illness, a well-financed Democratic opponent, a polarizing party flag bearer and political winds that favor outsiders who shake things up.
David Perdue, Georgia’s junior senator, comes to the convention as a rising GOP star whose effusive support of Trump has raised his national profile as an effective surrogate and created buzz about his ambitions.
Heading into Cleveland, Perdue is scheduled to take part in a panel discussion Monday on the national debt and another on foreign policy hosted by the International Republican Institute on Tuesday.
Sen. Johnny Isakson is the established two-term insider trying to hold his seat in the face of illness, a well-financed Democratic opponent, a polarizing party flag bearer and political winds that favor outsiders who shake things up
As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Budget Committee, Perdue has made the debt and global security his two main issues.
“My role at the convention and afterward is to continue to talk about the debt crisis and how it underpins our inability to defend our country and how the global security crisis is a function of our own intransigence here in the United States with this administration,” Perdue said.
With his seat safe until 2020, Perdue’s other job will be to serve as Trump’s biggest supporter in Georgia.
“I think we’ve got a candidate who’s not of the political establishment,” Perdue said. “He knows we’ve got to change the direction of the country, and he can absolutely nail the Democrats for their failures over the last seven years.”
David Perdue, Georgia’s junior senator, comes to the convention as a rising GOP star whose effusive support of Trump has raised his national profile as an effective surrogate and created buzz about his ambitions
As for Republican lawmakers who’ve skipped the convention, fearing Trump could be a drag on their campaigns, Perdue said those politicians weren’t listening to their voters.
“What the people back home are telling us – and when I go home I hear the same message; it’s getting louder – is that they are getting fed up with the lack of results in Washington,” Perdue said. Trump “is an outsider. He’s a business guy. And he’s listening to the folks back home.”
Isakson, who’s facing re-election against Democrat Jim Barksdale and Libertarian candidate Allen Buckley, will have a lower profile at the convention. He’s currently scheduled to speak only at breakfast and lunch events with the Georgia delegation. And he probably won’t be talking much about Trump.
“David’s not up for re-election and I am,” Isakson said of Perdue. “So every moment I have a chance to talk, I need to be talking about my re-election and my race.”
Isakson hasn’t exactly been a shrinking violet when it comes to Trump. He called Trump a “great nominee” and recently co-sponsored Trump’s first fundraiser in Atlanta.
“I’ve met with him twice and I’m doing whatever I can to be of assistance and help him,” Isakson said.
But he’s hardly the Trump booster that Perdue has been.
“I’m not going to skip the convention,” Isakson said. “I’m going to be at the convention and Donald Trump is the nominee of the party so, I mean, it is what it is.”
After recently disclosing his three-year struggle with Parkinson’s disease, Isakson, 70, said his health hadn’t slowed his campaign activities.
Barksdale, a millionaire investment manager with no prior political experience, has positioned himself as an outsider in the race.
He’s hoping to benefit from Trump’s possible drag on Republican congressional candidates, Georgia’s continued influx of Democratic-leaning black and Hispanic voters, and the historic cycle of high Democratic turnout in presidential election years.
With more than $5 million in campaign funds, Isakson said he was confident he could win a third term, despite the current popularity of unconventional candidates like Trump and Barksdale.
“I’m going to work hard to run on my record. I’m proud of my service to the people of the state of Georgia over the last 37 years, and I’m never going to run away from that,” Isakson said.
While Perdue didn’t get a coveted convention speaker’s slot, he’ll be counted on to help Trump whenever possible.
It’s a job Perdue seems to relish.
He and Trump are cut from the same political template: successful businessmen with no political experience who decided to test the waters in hopes of making a change. Where Trump has his trademark red “Make America Great Again” cap, Perdue has embraced a faded denim jacket as his signature piece of apparel.
Earlier this week, in a jab at presumed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Perdue, Isakson and Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., sponsored legislation that would bar State Department officials from using private servers and email accounts for sensitive and classified information.
As his national profile builds, Perdue faces questions about a possible position in a Trump administration.
“I’m sure there are plenty of people smarter than me that can help the next president, Donald Trump, get his administration going,” Perdue said. “But I’m going to be in there fighting heavily to help change the direction of this country. You can count on that.”
Perdue didn’t rule out a run for higher office, possibly in 2020, when he’s up for re-election. But he said that for now his focus was on the Senate.
“That’s my full-time attention right now,” he said. “I take it very seriously. It’s a sobering responsibility. I’m honored. But I’m also encouraged by the opportunity.”
Despite the rift within the party over Trump, Perdue said he expected those wounds to heal in Cleveland.
“I expect that you’re going to see the Republican Party come out of this convention united and angry from the standpoint, they’re going to be looking to change the direction of this country,” Perdue said.
Some worry that this anger could lead to convention chaos or violence in an open-carry state where pro- and anti-Trump activists have said they’ll be armed at outdoor protests.
“That’s a bunch of stuff the press is whipping up,” Isakson said. “I’m not even going to take the bait and speculate on that. Hopefully it will be a peaceful, good convention. And I think it will be.”