David Perdue Sets Up GOP Fight With Race for Georgia Governor
(Bloomberg) -- David Perdue, the Georgia Republican who lost his U.S. Senate seat this year to Democrat Jon Ossoff, has entered the race for governor as Donald Trump’s favorite.
His decision sets up a bitter intraparty conflict to earn the GOP nomination and face the likely Democrat nominee, Stacey Abrams, in the November 2022 general election. The contest reflects a national debate about how much loyalty Republicans must show to the former president and his false assertions that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
Perdue, a 71-year-old Georgia native, resident of an affluent coastal community and former business executive, will take on incumbent Governor Brian Kemp, the Republican incumbent. Trump has said that Kemp should have changed the outcome of last year’s presidential voting results in the state, and openly pushed Perdue to enter the race.
“Kemp caved before the election and the country is paying the price today,” Perdue said Monday in a video posted on his campaign website. “He has failed all of us and cannot win in November.”
A call and email to Perdue’s campaign were not returned.
Georgia will play a pivotal, swing role in next year’s midterm elections. The state, once a bastion of segregation, has become a center of Black economic and political power and chose a Democrat for president for the first time in decades last year. After Trump’s loss, Republicans in exurban and rural areas have tried to wrest back control, changing governmental structures and clamping down on measures meant to make voting easier. Candidates allied with Trump are running for several state offices.
Abrams, a nationally known voting-rights advocate and former Georgia state legislator who narrowly lost to Kemp in the 2018 gubernatorial race, announced last week that she would again seek the office.
“I’m running for governor to make sure Stacey Abrams is never governor of Georgia,” Perdue said in his video.
Trump endorsed Kemp four years ago, but has since publicly attacked the governor, including at a September rally where he said Abrams would make a better governor and cajoled Perdue to run.
In a statement on Monday, Trump applauded Perdue’s entry into the primary race but stopped short of endorsing him.
“Wow, it looks like highly respected Senator David Perdue will be running against RINO Brian Kemp for Governor of Georgia,” Trump said. “This will be very interesting and I can’t imagine that Brian Kemp, who has hurt election integrity in Georgia so badly, can do well at the ballot box.“
A third primary challenger, state lawmaker Vernon Jones, changed his party affiliation to Republican last year and has painted himself as the Trump-backed candidate.
Grassroots party activists have rallied behind Jones, but would likely switch to Perdue if Trump endorsed him formally, said Debbie Dooley, the Atlanta Tea Party founder who orchestrated anti-Kemp resolutions by county Republican groups across the state earlier this year.
Perdue, who is cousin of Sonny Perdue, a former Georgia governor and U.S. agriculture secretary, was first elected to the Senate in 2014. After one term, he lost in a runoff contest earlier this year to political newcomer Ossoff.
“Perdue’s only reason for running is to soothe his own bruised ego.” Cody Hall, a Kemp campaign spokesman, said in a statement. “Governor Kemp has a proven track record of fighting the radical left to put hardworking Georgians first, while Perdue is best known for ducking debates, padding his stock portfolio during a pandemic, and losing winnable races.”
Kemp’s campaign had $9.2 million of cash on hand at the end of June, according to filings with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission. Perdue’s Senate campaign had $3.7 million at the end of September, Federal Election Commission records show, but under Georgia law he’d only be able to use $7,600 of that amount in a primary challenge to Kemp.
Perdue joins a slate of pro-Trump candidates in races throughout Georgia. Herschel Walker, the former University of Georgia and professional football star, has announced that he would seek the U.S. Senate seat held by Raphael Warnock, the pastor of Atlanta’s famed Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached.
Warnock, a Democrat, is serving his first term in the U.S. Senate. Walker is running as a Republican and has been endorsed by Trump. Their relationship goes back to Trump’s days as an owner of the New Jersey Generals, a team that Walker played for, in the defunct United States Football League.
A Trump-backed candidate, U.S. Representative Jody Hice, is one of two challengers to Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in the primary. Raffensperger certified the election results and spoke out against Trump’s claims of fraud. Georgia Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, who publicly condemned Trump’s behavior, decided not to seek re-election.
The statewide contests are “going to demonstrate how strong Donald Trump actually is in Georgia,” said Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta.
With Perdue’s decision, Georgia’s Republican party could be thrown into disarray in what might amount to a civil war. Gillespie said she expects to see a costly primary and that “there’s a real chance that the GOP would be fractured enough to benefit Abrams in the general election.”
Trump, she said, “is going to put his thumb on the scale in favor of Perdue, and it’s going to be a test of how strong his endorsement is in this state.”
“It’s going to be bloody and it’s going to be really nasty,” Gillespie said. “And they may tear each other down so far that it will be hard for either of them to come back.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.