GOP's outsourcing mess in Georgia: Could this juicy piece of oppo be David Perdue's undoing?

Georgia Senate candidate "spent most of my career" outsourcing. How's he going to wriggle out of this one?

Published October 6, 2014 4:50PM (EDT)

David Perdue         (AP/David Goldman)
David Perdue (AP/David Goldman)

With four weeks remaining until the midterm elections, we're at the point where electorates have been hammered out into something resembling the final results of the race. Central arguments have been made, voters sorted. There's always the hope for a mind-boggling gaffe -- a candidate airing an unusual perspective on rape, say. But a four percentage point lead in October is a nice thing to have.

But there's also the possibility of a critical piece of opposition research landing at just the right time. We don't mean the tedious little asides that the campaigns of trailing candidates will be throwing out, just to see what sticks. But something that unambiguously reinforces the trailing candidate's central attack message against the opponent. A "smoking gun," really; something that can't be explained away as forced, a sign of desperation.

Georgia Senate candidate David Perdue maintains one of those four point leads. His opponent, Michelle Nunn, has name recognition and a lot of money. But Georgia is a red state -- a red state on its way to becoming a purple state, maybe -- and it's a Republican-favoring cycle. Nunn's team also made the extraordinary error of briefly uploading its campaign strategy to the Internet for all to see a while ago, and that in turn has "justified" the Perdue campaign's nonsensical yet probably effective attacks.

What can Nunn's campaign do at this point? Finding a gem transcript like this in the records of Perdue, David doesn't hurt:

During a July 2005 deposition, a transcript of which was provided to POLITICO, Perdue spoke at length about his role in Pillowtex’s collapse, which led to the loss of more than 7,600 jobs. Perdue was asked about his “experience with outsourcing,” and his response was blunt.

“Yeah, I spent most of my career doing that,” Perdue said, according to the 186-page transcript of his sworn testimony.

The Georgia Republican then listed his career experience, much of which involved outsourcing.

“[At] Kurt Salmon Associates, some of my experience there was helping footwear companies develop the ability to import shoes from Asia, specifically Taiwan, Korea, China, Indonesia, Malaysia,” Perdue noted, referring to his 12 years working for that management consulting company that specialized in outsourcing manufacturing for apparel companies. Perdue eventually became a partner with the firm.

“Later with Haggar Corp. — sorry, with Gitano and Sara Lee, having lived there, I lived in Singapore with Gitano and in Hong Kong with Sara Lee — sourcing was my primary responsibility in both of those locations.”

Well, what the hell do we know, but this seems to fit the description of a tremendously damaging, late-campaign opposition research find to a tee.

It's unambiguous. Perdue is asked about his "experience with outsourcing" and he responds, "Yeah, I spent most of my career doing that." And hot damn, look at him go into detail. He describes one management consulting job where he helped clients set up factories in countries with cheap labor. He lived in other countries where outsourcing was his "primary responsibility."

It reinforces the central message against David Perdue: that his fancy "business background" was about laying off workers and moving factories overseas. This is Perdue's key vulnerability, and a main reason why the Republican establishment preferred Rep. Jack Kingston over Perdue in the primary runoff.

Voters don't like outsourcing. See the 2012 presidential campaign of one Willard "Mitt" Romney for reference. And the file against Romney didn't include any quotes nearly as blunt as this.

Perdue's campaign doesn't have much of a response to it. His campaign manager, Derrick Dickey, argues that this is Nunn's team "cherry-picking sentences from a 186-page legal deposition," which is another way of saying that Nunn's team did solid work in finding something really bad for Perdue. "David has spent 40 years dealing with bad government policies that put our manufacturers at a disadvantage internationally," Dickey went on. "He wants to use that experience in the Senate to revitalize domestic manufacturing by removing the barriers to competitiveness." Okay then, what are Perdue's solutions? Child labor? Widespread danger in the workplace? Eliminating corporate taxes? It's worth hearing out Perdue's ideas for rebuilding the American manufacturing sector into something more closely resembling Malaysia's.

And Georgia voters will, indeed, have several opportunities to hear Perdue explain the missing "context" of these remarks. Nunn and Perdue are about to square off in three debates, the first being tomorrow. What coincidental timing for this story to be all over the news! It was a total embarrassment for the Nunn when her strategy documents leaked, but they did show that the campaign had a well-oiled research team in place. And a piece of opposition like this, right now, is further evidence of that.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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