The star of Michelle Nunn’s latest ad seems to be guilty of exactly what the Democratic Senate candidate has repeatedly accused her opponent of: outsourcing jobs.
The Georgia Senate race remains tight in the final weeks before Election Day, due in large part to Nunn’s repeated attacks on Republican David Perdue’s business record. Earlier this month, her campaign jumped on Perdue for saying he was “proud” of his business experience as an executive at various companies, some of which had outsourced jobs.
Nunn has continued to use outsourcing as a cudgel, but her new ad picks an unlikely messenger.
The ad stars Roy Richards Jr., the chairman of Southwire, a power-cable manufacturer in Carrollton, Ga., founded by Richards’s father. In the spot, Richards emphasizes his belief that “Georgia workers . . . can compete with anyone in the world,” and takes a direct shot at Perdue.
“When I hear David Perdue say he’s proud to have outsourced jobs to other parts of the world, I have to wonder,” Richards says.
But Southwire’s own history says otherwise.
Since 2000, the Department of Labor has certified six separate claims for Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a program that provides financial aid to American workers who lost their jobs or lost wages due to foreign imports and competition, from Southwire employees in four different states.
In a 2011 TAA claim, 28 employees in Long Beach, Calif., cite as the reason for financial assistance that Southwire’s “production has been shifted to Mexico.” The Labor Department later validated the employees’ claim by confirming that there had “been a shift in production by such workers’ firm or subdivision to a foreign country.”
According to news reports, Southwire has opened two facilities in Mexico and also maintains operations in Canada, China, Honduras, and India.
Southwire has been in hot water with other governmental departments. In 2009, the company paid $337,500 to the Environmental Protection Agency as part of the largest-ever fine for a company of its type in the southeastern United States. Meanwhile, a former employee who claimed he was wrongly terminated was issued a Notice of Right to Sue by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an agency that has dogged Nunn’s campaign as well.
Perdue is hardly the first businessman-turned-political-candidate who has had to fend off attacks over the practice of outsourcing. In 2012, Mitt Romney was criticized for having invested in a firm that the Obama campaign argued provided outsourcing services itself, and Georgia Democrats have aimed to draw parallels between him and Perdue throughout the campaign.
Perdue has fired back that Nunn has mischaracterized his record, while also suggesting it’s burdensome government regulations and taxes that force American companies to look elsewhere.
Fact-checking website Politifact rated Nunn’s attacks “Half True,” noting that Perdue has been part of companies that lost jobs stateside at some point and had operations abroad. But the website notes that much of Perdue’s involvement in the process of outsourcing was limited; or the companies shed jobs abroad at the same time they were cutting them domestically; or the companies opened operations overseas as part of an effort to protect existing American jobs. While the CEO of Dollar General, Perdue helped create more than 19,000 part-time and full-time jobs in nearly 3,000 new stores, Politifact notes.
One finance professor told the website that “there is nothing to suggest he was narrowly moving jobs overseas just to increase profits or give himself a bonus.” Another said Nunn’s strategy may work politically, but that it’s “a leap” to say it reflects on his ambivalence about American jobs. As Cato’s Dan Ikenson has explained in Forbes, relocating jobs overseas can have as much to do with costs for customers, proximity to supply chains, or interest in new consumer markets as it does with labor costs and profitability.
While Nunn has gone on the offensive over Perdue’s professional experiences, she’s been able to avoid attacks on her work record. After getting her master’s from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 2001 — and exploring a 2004 Senate run before backing out — Nunn spent six years as head of a nonprofit organization that later merged with the Points of Light Foundation, founded by President George H. W. Bush.
That organization and its ties to the former president, combined with the legacy of her father, former longtime Democratic senator Sam Nunn, gave her a platform to launch her bid this cycle. Nunn, for instance, has repeatedly used images of Bush in campaign ads, although the president publicly endorsed Perdue over the summer and has repeatedly requested that she stop using him in ads.
Attempts to target Nunn for Points of Light’s dubious associations and EEOC troubles have not gained traction in the way charges of Perdue’s outsourcing have. Polls continue to show the race neck-and-neck in the solidly red state, headed for a January run-off if, as seems quite possible, neither tops the 50 percent mark necessary in the state for an outright win.
If so, expect Nunn to continue hitting the outsourcing issue — by any means necessary.
— Andrew Johnson is an editorial associate at National Review Online.