U.S. Senator David Perdue speaks at a tea party rally at Liberty Square in Atlanta on April 15, 2019. EMILY HANEY / emily.haney@ajc.com
Photo: Emily Haney/emily.haney@ajc.com
Photo: Emily Haney/emily.haney@ajc.com

UPDATED: Who could challenge Sen. David Perdue in 2020

With Democrat Stacey Abrams passing on a 2020 challenge to U.S. Sen. David Perdue, a parade of Democrats is expected to quickly enter the contest. 

The first-term Republican has quietly prepared for a re-election battle that will bring a deluge of money and attention to Georgia, which is expected to be a battleground state for President Trump’s quest for a second term. 

Most leading Democrats had been waiting for Abrams to announce her plans before making decisions of their own. And several who have previously run for statewide office are seriously considering bids, which could lead to a messy primary. 

Read our preview of the race here. 

Here are the potential candidates we’re watching: 

Democrats

Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson. University of Georgia/Russell Library

Former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson

Details: Perhaps no Georgia Democrat has signaled their interest in the Senate seat as vigorously as Tomlinson, 54, who stepped down from her city hall gig in January after two terms in office. The lawyer has created a glossy personal website that emphasizes her accomplishments, biography and recent speeches. Tomlinson has presented herself as a progressive who can also appeal to parts of rural Georgia where Democrats got clobbered in the midterms. She’s also taken jabs at Perdue in recent media appearances, slamming him for his pro-Trump stances while touting her own fundraising prowess. 

Status: Tomlinson filed paperwork to explore a Senate run in April 2019 with the caveat that she’d only run if Abrams didn’t. She’s expected to formally launch her bid on May 1. 

11/02/2018 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- Sarah Riggs Amico, Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor, )speaks during a rally for gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams in Forbes Arena at Morehouse College, Friday, November 2, 2018. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

Sarah Riggs Amico, business executive

Details: An auto executive and political newcomer, Amico was defeated by Republican Geoff Duncan in 2018 in the race for lieutenant governor. She focused her campaign on a vow to expand the Medicaid program and oppose “religious liberty” measures. On the campaign trail, she described herself as a pro-choice, evangelical Christian and former Republican who attends a non-denominational church in Cobb County. Raised in rural Missouri and trained at Harvard Business School, she is the executive chair of Jack Cooper Holdings Corp, a Cobb-based trucking and logistics firm. 

Status: She is expected to enter the race if Abrams does not run.  

Democrat Jon Ossoff. PHOTO / JASON GETZ
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Former congressional candidate Jon Ossoff

Details: The 32-year-old former congressional aide built a national name for himself in last year’s blockbuster 6th District special election. Ossoff ultimately lost to Republican Karen Handel but built up an impressive fundraising list in the process, one he used in to help suburban congressional candidates like Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux in 2018. Since the special election, Ossoff has returned to his documentary filmmaking company but has also been testing the political waters. He recently struck a populist tone at a town hall in rural Habersham County – worlds away from the well-off Atlanta suburbs that make up the 6th District – and penned an op-ed in the British newspaper The Guardian railing against dark money in recent Public Service Commission race. He’s also intensified his criticism of Perdue on social media. 

Status: He hasn’t ruled out a Senate bid, recently holding town halls and other political events to sharpen his message. 

The Rev. Raphael G. Warnock. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

Pastor Raphael Warnock 

Details: Warnock is a leading voting-rights advocate and the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist, the historic Atlanta church that was once led by Martin Luther King Jr. He flirted with a Senate bid in 2016 before deciding to stay in the pulpit. Warnock’s supporters see him as an outsider who could forcefully denounce Trump while exciting the state’s black electorate much like Abrams did with a liberal platform. From his pulpit at Ebenezer, Warnock has blasted a controversial gun rights bill, called on Republicans to expand Medicaid, pushed for more muscular voting rights laws and led efforts to register more left-leaning black voters. He also chairs Abrams’ voter registration organization, the New Georgia Project. 

Status: He hasn’t ruled out a bid, though state Democratic officials say it’s unlikely.  

Michelle Nunn: The Democratic nonprofit executive, ran unsuccessfully for Senate in 2014 and could one day run again.
Photo: Bob Andres

Michelle Nunn

Details: The nonprofit executive and first-time candidate was defeated by Perdue in 2014 by about 8 percentage points, so this would be a rematch if she gets in the race. Nunn, the daughter of former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn, emphasized her long nonprofit service and pragmatic bipartisan chops - George H.W. Bush asked her to run the charity he helped launch - during that 2014 run. But she also stuck to a centrist message to appeal to independents that seems out of step with the more liberal bent of Georgia Democrats in 2020.

Status: Her allies are encouraging her to consider another bid. 

Other potential candidates who are considered doubtful: Former state Sen. Jason Carter, state Rep. Scott Holcomb. 

Democrats who have ruled themselves out: 

Former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Ex-acting Attorney General Sally YatesState Sen. Jen Jordan

Other possible candidates: 

Former state Rep. Doug Teper, a top ally to Roy Barnes in the early 2000s, is ruminating on a run. Several lesser-known candidates have filed fundraising paperwork with the Federal Election Commission, including Marckeith DeJesus, a financial counselor who lost two recent bids for the state Legislature. Stockbridge High School teacher Akhenaten Hotep Amun has also filed papers, as has Elaine Whigham Williams, a pastor who ran for president in 2016. 

Republicans

Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Colorado Supreme Court Justice Allison Eid, on her nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Photo: Alex Brandon/AP

U.S. Sen. David Perdue

Details: The 69-year-old was a political neophyte when he announced his bid to replace the retiring U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss in 2013, albeit one with deep pockets and a famous last name (former Gov. Sonny Perdue is his first cousin). Perdue’s anti-establishment message and country boy-turned-CEO image resonated with voters, and the Republican indicated he plans to revive those motifs as he ramps up his 2020 reelection bid

Since arriving in Washington in early 2015, Perdue has prioritized overhauling the sputtering federal budget processbolstering the Pentagon and loosening the grip of the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory overhaul on community banks. He’s also closely aligned himself with Trump, sticking by the commander-in-chief even in his most isolating moments. His formidable political network includes officials in the top rungs of Washington and Georgia politics, including Agriculture chief Sonny Perdue, Kemp, Mike Pence’s former Chief of Staff Nick Ayers and ex-state GOP chairman John Watson.  

Status: He’s running, and has been quickly rebuilding his campaign infrastructure over the past year. His campaign ended 2018 with $1.2 million in the bank, and he has held a series of major fundraisers. 

Republican Derrick Grayson is shown in Decatur during his 2014 U.S. Senate campaign. (AJC/Hyosub Shin)
Photo: Daniel Malloy/Political Insider blog

Other potential GOP candidates: No prominent Republican is likely to challenge Perdue, but several lesser-known contenders could jump in. Derrick Grayson, a perennial candidate and self-styled “Minister of Truth,” has created a 2020 Facebook group 

Third-party candidates 

Clifton Kilby has filed fundraising papers to run as an Independent, but no information about him was immediately available. A retired police officer with the same name ran unsuccessfully for sheriff in Forsyth County, N.C., this year.  

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