Establishment Republicans advance in Ga.
© Courtesy of David Perdue

Businessman David Perdue and Rep. Jack Kingston will face off in a July runoff for the Georgia Senate GOP nomination. 

When the Associated Press called the race just after 11:30 p.m., Perdue was leading the crowded GOP field with 30 percent. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) was at 26 percent to claim the second spot, edging out former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel (R), who took 22 percent. Reps. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) and Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) had 10 percent apiece. 

The matchup between the two establishment candidates is the best case scenario for national Republican strategists. Perdue and Kingston both have ties to the GOP establishment and are proven fundraisers, and the two candidates Republicans were most worried about — Broun and Gingrey — lost by a wide margin. Handel also concerned some Republicans due to her scorched earth campaign tactics, which some worried could hurt the eventual nominee if she ran and lost in a runoff.

The next two months could feature a nasty, hard-fought runoff. Perdue and Kingston have already been pounding each other for weeks, with Kingston attacking Perdue, the former CEO of Dollar General and Reebok, as an out-of-touch aristocrat who's laid off people and outsourced jobs,and Perdue hammering Kingston as a lifetime politician. Both have literally portrayed one another as babies in dueling attack ads.

The two candidates will have plenty of money for the runoff, though Perdue's ability to self-fund may give him an edge on the air. Kingston had $1.3 million in the bank as of the end of April and has the endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has already spent heavily on his behalf.

The eventual winner will face former charity executive Michelle Nunn (D), who won her primary Tuesday night and has posted huge fundraising numbers for the race.

Democrats are bullish about Nunn's chances against either candidate, promising Nunn's record as running a major charity headed by former President George H.W. Bush contrasts well with Perdue's business record and Kingston's time in Washington. Polls have found a close race between Nunn and both Republicans.

The race for retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss's (R) seat is one of Democrats' best chances to pick up a Senate seat this year.

This post was last updated at 12:15 a.m.