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Greg BluesteinDaniel Malloy

The day David Perdue walked out on the U.S. Chamber

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Jefferson - The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has dropped about $2.3 million on Rep. Jack Kingston in the Senate race, and the scuttlebutt in political circles has long held that one reason for the largess is the testy relationship between the business group and David Perdue.

In fact, you could say that the Republican race for the U.S. Senate was largely shaped on the day when Perdue arrived in Atlanta for his interview with the most powerful business group in the U.S.

photo - Copy (3)The ex-Fortune 500 chief executive talked specifics about that meeting for the first time at a campaign stop in Jefferson this morning.

In that sit-down, Perdue told a crowd of about 30 supporters, the Chamber’s representatives urged him to “tell us you’ll vote for us 100 percent of the time.” When he balked, and said he wanted to “represent my constituents instead,” he said the exchange turned testy.

Said Perdue:

“I got mad. I walked out of a 60-minute interview in about 10 minutes. There’s a rumor going around that I lost my temper. I can confirm for you today that that is true.”

Each of the GOP Senate candidates sought out the Chamber’s endorsement, but Perdue was seen as a contender because of his boardroom background.

Rob Engstrom, the Chamber’s political director, has said Kingston was the group’s pick because “he’s someone we rely on to get something done.”

There was no comment on why Perdue chose to speak about the meeting six days before the primary, but we surmise it’s because it could be too late for the Chamber to unload negative ads against him.

Contacted Wednesday, Engstrom said Perdue did walk out of the meeting — but not because of any ultimatum on the Chamber’s part:

“He left abruptly after 10 minutes, called two hours later to apologize. During that phone call, he asked to fly to Washington to meet again to reset, which he did.

“Despite others attempts to dramatize the facts of our meetings, our endorsement was based on member input.  The fact is that Jack Kingston is the only candidate with a proven record of fighting for America’s job creators.  We categorically never said Mr. Perdue needs to vote with us 100%, in fact our threshold for incumbents is 70% with very limited exception.”

Kingston disagrees with the Chamber on some key issues, including immigration reform.

A person familiar with the exchange said Perdue said at the Atlanta meeting: “I don’t give a damn about the U.S. Chamber.” Perdue, according to the person who did not want to be named describing a private exchange, then added: “You’re either in or you’re out. You’re either going to endorse me right now or this is a waste of my time. … You’ve been waiting for a candidate like me for 20 years.”

The second meeting in Washington went better, but the Chamber decided to back Kingston with an announcement in April.

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