Former Sen. David Perdue tiptoes back onto the political stage

After retreating from the spotlight following his 2022 thrashing, the ex-senator is taking steps toward becoming a key Donald Trump surrogate in Georgia.
Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue retreated from the spotlight following a huge loss in the GOP's 2022 gubernatorial primary. But now he's returning to Georgia's political scene, campaigning to put Donald Trump back in the White House. (Arvin Temkar /

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue retreated from the spotlight following a huge loss in the GOP's 2022 gubernatorial primary. But now he's returning to Georgia's political scene, campaigning to put Donald Trump back in the White House. (Arvin Temkar /

Donald Trump’s last public rally in Georgia featured the expected attacks on President Joe Biden and other Democrats. What was surprising was the reemergence of one his top allies during a string of speeches before the former president took the stage.

“Let me get one thing straight with you right now. I am not running for any elected office,” former U.S. Sen. David Perdue told the thousands of Trump supporters packed in a northwest Georgia arena.

“The only thing that I’m doing here in Floyd County and Rome, Georgia, and for the rest of this year until November is making damn sure that Donald J. Trump is the next president of the United States,” he said.

Perdue is tiptoeing back into Georgia’s political scene after his humbling loss to Democrat Jon Ossoff in 2021 and his resounding defeat a year later in his Republican primary challenge to unseat Gov. Brian Kemp.

After those back-to-back losses, Perdue retreated from the spotlight and, his friends and associates say, returned to his home on the coast to start new business ventures and spend time with his wife, Bonnie, and his grandchildren.

But in recent weeks, he’s taken steps to position himself as a key Trump surrogate in Georgia. He’s booked speaking gigs at local GOP meetings and helped raise money for Courtney Kramer, a Republican challenging Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, shown at a rally former President Donald Trump held in March 2022 in Commerce, was one of the first Republicans in Georgia to align himself with Trump’s populist brand. (Megan Varner/Getty Images/TNS)

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And Perdue was among a handful of co-hosts this week at the lavish Trump fundraiser at the St. Regis Atlanta, arriving early to catch up with donors and operatives who packed the Buckhead hotel’s ballroom. (It cost $250,000 to be listed on the invite as a co-host, but often current and former elected officials aren’t required to chip in that much.)

A Perdue aide repeatedly said that the ex-U.S. senator, a wealthy former Fortune 500 chief executive of Dollar General and Reebok, has no interest in returning to Washington and that he is enjoying his private life.

But his recent reemergence on the political stage has raised questions about whether he’ll become a more prominent figure on the campaign trail — and whether he’s seeking a form of redemption, or a position with the administration, if Trump’s comeback succeeds.

An early Trump ally

A decade ago, Perdue was one of the most popular Republicans in the state.

A self-described “political outsider,” he defeated a gaggle of U.S. House Republicans to win the GOP nomination for an open U.S. Senate seat, and then he bested Democrat Michelle Nunn, a family friend, to capture the office.

His signature jean jacket transformed his image from a longtime boardroom executive into an everyman, and he was one of the first Republicans in Georgia to align himself with Trump’s populist brand.

Running together in 2020, Trump, Perdue and then-U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler all went down in defeat. Rather than challenge Democrat Raphael Warnock in 2022 for a potential return to the Senate, Perdue heeded Trump’s call to run against Kemp.

In 2022, former Sen. David Perdue, right, followed the urgings of former President Donald Trump to launch a bid to unseat Gov. Brian Kemp in that year's Republican primary. He lost by 52 percentage points. (Miguel Martinez/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

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The campaign ended in disastrous fashion after Perdue one-upped Trump’s election fraud conspiracy theories and egged on the former president’s supporters as they chanted “lock him up” about imprisoning Kemp. By the end of the campaign, even Trump had distanced himself from Perdue. He lost that race by 52 percentage points.

Perdue quipped during his concession speech that the race was called so early his supporters could still make their dinner reservations before he asked them to “face the reality” and back Kemp in the general election over Democrat Stacey Abrams.

“I can’t explain these results. They’re counter to what I saw around the state,” he said. “But what we’re going to do right now is we’re going to make sure Stacey Abrams is not governor of the state.”

And then he all but disappeared, a retreat from the spotlight that contrasted with other Georgia Republican mainstays on the 2020 campaign trail.

Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, shown speaking to voters in May 2022 at Sell's Mill Park in Hoschton, never embraced the day-to-day grind of the campaign trail. But Perdue could emerge as a key surrogate for former President Donald Trump during this year's presidential campaign. (Hyosub Shin /


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Loeffler started the Greater Georgia political organization to trumpet GOP causes. With her husband, she has donated more than $2.6 million to Trump this election cycle. Former U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, another Senate candidate, has a podcast and wrote a book in late 2021. Both could seek statewide office in 2026.

Perdue, a 74-year-old who never embraced the day-to-day grind of the campaign trail, isn’t expected to run for elected office again.

But a Trump victory could offer other opportunities for a business executive once seen as a potential Cabinet appointee during Trump’s first term. (Perdue’s cousin, Sonny Perdue, served as Trump’s agriculture secretary.)

“He never was a happy warrior on the campaign trail. But a president has the power of many appointments that are alluring,” said GOP strategist Brian Robinson, who noted that U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is among MAGA loyalists in Georgia already jockeying for a position if a second Trump administration becomes reality.

“Of course,” Robinson said, “he might have to compete with Greene for a Cabinet post since there will only be so many Georgia slots.”

‘Enjoy the sunsets’

Democrats say it’s time for Perdue to throw in the towel for good. State Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, said Perdue “embarrassed himself” so thoroughly the past two election cycles that he needs to move on.

“He should sip tea on his porch in his jean jacket,” Holcomb said, “and enjoy the sunsets.”

Kramer, who’s running against Willis, is among the Republicans who say Perdue could be an important factor in November. She said she was grateful that he helped drum up conservative support for her long-shot challenge at a recent fundraiser.

“Politicians come and go, but public servants — true public servants — never stop serving,” she said.

Perdue declined through an aide to comment for this story, but his public remarks have largely echoed his message over the past decade.

He talks about Georgia’s consequential role in a November race that could come down to a few thousand voters in a handful of swing states. And he highlights his ties to Trump, who arguably did more to support Perdue than any other candidate in the 2022 cycle.

Supporters arrive for David Perdue rally at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport during his reelection campaign in December 2020. He lost that race to Democrat Jon Ossoff in a January 2021 runoff.

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Sounding a wistful note at the Rome rally, Perdue said he was part of a small circle of insiders that Trump confided in after he took office in 2017 and spoke with admiration about how Trump “laid out the agenda like a business guy would, like an outsider would.”

“He’s doing his part. He’s done his part,” Perdue said. “There’s no mystery about who Donald Trump is. That’s what I get so upset about. You get what you pay for, just like Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan.”

He’s indicated repeatedly his recent appearances were no anomalies, and that he would be more involved in Trump’s campaign, telling the audience in Rome “there’s more work to be done” to back the former president.

“He cannot win the presidency without Georgia,” Perdue said. “And I need you to help us do that.”