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Greg Bluestein

Three things to watch at today’s final GOP Senate debate

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It seemed there was a never-ending stream of debates and forums for the GOP candidates for Senate in the runup to the May primary. But today is the first and last one-on-one debate between the two Republican finalists, Rep. Jack Kingston and businessman David Perdue, before the July 22 runoff.

Here are three things to watch for at The Atlanta Press Club debate, which will be held in Atlanta at 4 p.m. and is to be televised three hours later.

1. How quickly will the gloves come off?  We’ve seen Kingston’s campaign depict Perdue as an out-of-touch executive and an outsider so extreme he’s become a renegade. We’ve watched as Perdue paints Kingston as a Washington fixture and king of earmarks. A taste of how quickly a candidate goes on the offensive can speak volumes about how they see their standing. Look for Perdue, who says he wants his campaign to have an underdog feel regardless of polls showing him gaining on Kingston, to come out swinging.

2. Will post-primary developments loom large? The unprecedented nine-week stretch between the primary and the runoff has given us media types added time to scrutinize the candidates. We’ll be watching to see how Perdue plans to use the AJC’s report that Kingston took potentially illegal contributions funneled through a convicted felon, and that he ignored warnings from a GOP attorney to return the money. The Savannah Republican has some fresh ammo, too, including an AJC report that raised questions about a conflict of interest while Perdue was serving on the Georgia Ports Authority board.

3. Will we hear a big tent appeal? Whoever emerges next week faces Democrat Michelle Nunn, who has a well-financed campaign and likely an incoming tide of outside money in her favor. Kingston and Perdue both know they have to have one eye on next week’s contest and another on November. Whether they use this debate to appeal to an audience  beyond the 10 percent or so who will vote in the runoff could be interesting. So will any mention of someone who has so far been absent from much of the debate: Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the retiring Republican incumbent whose negotiations with Democrats is upheld by Nunn as a model of bipartisanship.

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