SAVANNAH — He’s represented Coastal Georgia residents at the federal level for 20 years, and now Rep. Jack Kingston is vying for the U.S. Senate in 2014.
The 11-term House of Representatives veteran announced his candidacy Thursday on River Street.
“Now it’s time in my political life to begin a new chapter, and we’re here today to end speculation as I announce my candidacy for the United States Senate …,” Kingston said as his family and a crowd of supporters watched. “It would be easy to stay in the house and hide behind the mantle of seniority — in fact, it’s flattering to walk down the hall and be called Mr. Chairman, but I am convinced the battleground for America is now in the United States Senate.”
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who has served in the Senate since 2002, announced earlier this year he would not seek re-election in 2014. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports U.S. Reps. Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta, and Paul Broun, R-Athens, also have announced their candidacies for the seat, and more contenders are expected to come forward.
During his Thursday remarks, Kingston spoke about the work ethic and fiscal conservancy his father instilled in him and introduced his mother, Ann Kingston, to whom he credits his Republican values.
He also touted his record representing the five military installations within District 1 and cited examples in which he strayed from party lines, such as voting against President George W. Bush’s bailouts of Wall Street, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, “because, again, conservative principles are more important than party.”
Kingston’s finances and supporters
Between 2011 and 2012, Kingston raised $1,471,064 through his campaign committee and the 13th Colony Leadership Committee, a Savannah-based political action committee.
Though records indicate Kingston spent $1,402,027, opensecrets.org listed him as having $1,058,817 in cash on hand as of Dec. 31, 2012.
The top five industries that contributed to Kingston’s 2012 campaign are food processing and sales, crop production and basic processing, lobbyists, defense electronics and agricultural services.
Kingston’s largest campaign contributors are Northrop Grumman, the nation’s fourth-largest defense contractor; Home Depot; Altria Group; National Rural Electric Cooperative Association; Raytheon; United Parcel Service; General Dynamics; Southern Co.; and Koch Industries.
Contributors from the food-and-beverage industries include political-action committees from Coca-Cola, the National Chicken Council, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council, the American Peanut Shellers Association and the United Egg Association.
Kingston will make appearances today in Albany, Macon and Augusta before holding a 5:30 p.m. fundraiser at the Mulberry Inn in Savannah. He’ll travel to Athens on Saturday.
Former Liberty County Commissioner Kenny Fussell and attorney Bob Pirkle attended the event, and both said Liberty County would stand to benefit if Kingston is elected.
“I think he is great for the state of Georgia, and I think he has a real chance of winning,” Pirkle said. “He’s a real family man, hardworking, conservative, and I think we need him in Washington.”
“He’s always been a friend of Liberty County,” Fussell added, recalling that Kingston helped the county work out some drainage issues on the east end during Fussell’s time on the commission.
Pirkle added that Fort Stewart saw tremendous growth when Kingston oversaw military appropriations.
“He’s accessible. You can get ahold of him when you need him,” Fussell said.
Kingston’s Senate bid is expected to have a domino effect on Coastal Georgia’s delegates. It’s fitting since he served in the Georgia State House from 1985-1992, when he first was elected to Congress, according to opensecrets.org.
State Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, has several appearances scheduled for Monday, when he is expected to announce a bid for Kingston’s current District 1 congressional seat. He attended Kingston’s Savannah news conference.
“Right now, I’d rather not confirm it,” Carter said Wednesday when Kingston’s conference was announced. “Let’s give him his time in the limelight now.”
Carter does have a stop at Hinesville’s Bradwell Park scheduled for 3 p.m. Monday.
“Hinesville’s a big part of it,” he said, adding he plans to visit other areas in the district throughout the week.
State Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, said his current plan is to “watch the dominoes” and see who comes to the fold.
Does he have any plans to seek Carter’s state senate seat?
“You know, it would be foolish to say no so early …,” Williams said. “I love representing District 168, and I haven’t given any long-term thoughts to any other office, but I certainly will look at the office — I don’t know briefly or how long.”
When asked whether he will support Kingston’s senate run or wait for Democrat candidates to emerge, Williams said he’s eager to see which candidates emerge across the board.
“I’ve always appreciated what Jack has done for Fort Stewart and for Liberty County, and I’ve appreciated his friendship and I’ve appreciated his kindness and continue to feel that way,” Williams said. “For the Senate seat, whoever runs for it needs to be prepared to raise between $5 million and $10 million, and I think Jack has proven that he’s got one of the biggest war chests of anyone that’s talked about it. That certainly gives him a big advantage from that perspective.”
Williams said he’s heard rumors about possible Democratic candidates, including District 2 Rep. John Barrow, but no announcements have been made publicly.
As for the vacant congressional seat, Williams estimates a serious candidate would need a half-million dollars to contend, and someone unknown would need at least $1 million.
“I certainly want someone who knows something about Fort Stewart, Liberty County and this area who can be a benefit — those are the first criteria,” Williams said.