US Chamber on sidelines in close Georgia race

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

WASHINGTON (AP) — The most powerful business group in the country is spending tens of millions of dollars to help Republicans win control of the Senate with one glaring omission — the tight Georgia Senate race.

Rob Engstrom, political director for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said Friday that the organization will stay on the sidelines in the contest between businessman David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn in Georgia as well as the competitive Louisiana race pitting three-term Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy.

Days before the Nov. 4 election, both races are which are critical to GOP hopes of a Senate majority look as if they will be decided in runoffs — December for Louisiana and January for Georgia. Republicans need a net gain of six seats to wrest control from the Democrats.

"We're a member-driven organization," Engstrom said in a taped interview for C-SPAN's "Newsmakers." ''In Georgia — happens to be my home state — we aggressively and proudly backed Jack Kingston during the primary and during the runoff. We surveyed our members in the state of Georgia and their advice and counsel to us is that we stay neutral in this race."

The Chamber and Perdue engaged in a very public spat this past summer. Perdue said he walked out of an hour-long interview with the Chamber after 10 minutes because he balked at the group's ultimatum that if elected, he vote with them 100 percent of the time.

Not so, said the Chamber, which aired a commercial saying Perdue sought the group's endorsement and didn't get it. "Now, losing and desperate, David is crying like a little baby," the ad said.

Outside groups like the Chamber have spent heavily in the midterm elections. Determined to elect candidates receptive to their pro-business agenda, the Chamber has spent $13.2 million in the primaries and $16.4 million in the general election, according to an analysis by the Campaign Finance Institute.

The group is backing GOP candidates in the most competitive Senate races — North Carolina, Arkansas, Colorado, Alaska, New Hampshire, Kansas and Kentucky.

The organization endorsed Landrieu in 2008, but Engstrom said her voting record no longer met the group's standard. The Democratic senator who chairs the Energy Committee remains strong on those issues favored by the Chamber, but she voted for the 2010 health care law that the group opposes.

"Our threshold for endorsement for incumbents is 70 percent," Engstrom said. "Senator Landrieu had earned a 73 percent rating with the Chamber during the 2008 election, it slipped to 68 percent below our threshold, he said, indicating additionally that the Chamber's membership in Louisiana wanted the organization to stay neutral in the race.

Engstrom said it was likely both Georgia and Louisiana would end up in a runoff. He was noncommittal about what the Chamber would do then.

He said the group learned in 2012 "that sometimes we should be measured by what we don't do."

The taped interview for C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" will air on Sunday.