David Perdue is running for Georgia governor. Now what?

Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, left, is challenging Gov. Brian Kemp's in the GOP primary.

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Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, left, is challenging Gov. Brian Kemp's in the GOP primary.

Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue announced he will challenge Gov. Brian Kemp in a Republican primary on Monday, setting up a bitter GOP war for the right to face likely Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams next year.

The battle among the trio of political titans will draw even more attention to Georgia after game-changing elections that helped cement President Joe Biden’s victory and sealed Democratic control of the U.S. Senate.

The primary will also be a test of former President Donald Trump’s grip on the state GOP and his vow to punish Republicans he views as disloyal. Trump has vowed to oust Kemp for the governor’s refusal to reverse his defeat, and he quickly praised Perdue after he announced his campaign.

That’s some of what we know. But plenty of questions remain about what’s next for Perdue’s bid.

How ugly does the GOP race get?

Kemp’s allies promised a “total war” and “scorched earth” fury if Perdue got in the race. The governor said it would be a shocking betrayal from a onetime ally who helped Kemp win Trump’s endorsement in 2018.

The Kemp campaign’s initial response to Perdue’s plans was a sign the saber-rattling was no idle threat. Spokesman Cody Hall channeled the GOP attacks pummeling President Joe Biden over inflation and “runaway government spending” and turned them on Perdue because he lost the Senate runoff.

(Kemp’s hand-picked candidate, Republican Kelly Loeffler, was also defeated in the same election.)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

And Hall brought up a series of attacks also leveraged by Democrat Jon Ossoff in his victorious campaign, including Perdue’s stock transactions at the start of the pandemic and his no-shows at two pivotal debates in the closing weeks of the race.

The Perdue campaign’s response indicated he’ll swing back just as hard. And his debut Monday is to echo the same argument for running he’s privately told allies for weeks: He fears that Kemp will inevitably fall to Abrams, and that he’s the only Republican who can prevent the slide.

How will Democrats capitalize on the GOP infighting?

In the final weeks of the Senate runoff campaigns, Democrats largely tried to steer clear of the mayhem within the GOP as Trump made an escalating series of demands of the Senate candidates — and threatened to punish them if they didn’t follow through.

Now Abrams and her allies face a fresh decision about how to capitalize on the fractious infighting. Her campaign’s reaction to Perdue’s decision offered a glimpse at her strategy to frame herself as an above-the-fray candidate critical of both GOP rivals.

“While David Perdue and Brian Kemp fight each other, Stacey Abrams will be fighting for the people of Georgia,” said Lauren Groh-Wargo, her top aide, highlighting Abrams’ plans to expand Medicaid and boost school funding.

“Only Stacey Abrams will lead to create One Georgia in which all of our people, regardless of ZIP code, background or access to power, have the opportunity to thrive,” Groh-Wargo said.

How will state GOP powers react?

The battle lines were being drawn long before Perdue entered the race, but now the activists, donors and elected officials who form the backbone of the Georgia GOP will be under far more pressure to take sides.

Kemp can count on the well-financed Republican Governors Association for support, along with dozens of local elected leaders and law enforcement officials. Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, Attorney General Chris Carr and the Georgia Chamber business lobby have all endorsed the governor’s reelection bid.

But others have been conspicuously silent. U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker, the GOP front-runner, has refused to back Kemp. So have other statewide candidates that were endorsed by Trump.

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Aides to both rivals say they’ve been surprised by the number of supporters coming out of the woodwork since word of Perdue’s decision surfaced.

Some prominent activists are making plans to endorse Perdue, mindful of the pro-Trump backlash targeting the governor at recent grassroots events. Big-time donors are getting deluged with calls seeking commitments, with some trying to stay out of the fight.

For many top GOP officials, though, keeping clear of the feud will be impossible.

What role will Trump play?

It’s fast become a perennial question in Georgia politics, but a necessary one.

Trump has repeatedly pledged to sink Kemp’s reelection campaign, and he even said at a rally in September that he wished Abrams had won the 2018 contest. His endorsements and platform still hold tremendous sway in state GOP politics.

But Republicans agonize over a potential repeat of the 2021 runoffs, when Trump’s obsession with his election defeat and lies about widespread fraud distracted from the Senate candidates and alienated many of his most fervent supporters.

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

This cycle, it was supposed to be Georgia Democrats who were under pressure to prove they can re-create the same winning coalition without Trump on the ballot.

If warring GOP factions turn this race into a referendum on Trump, it could play into the hands of Democrats eager for new ways to motivate their base.

Is Sonny Perdue still in line to lead the higher ed system?

Kemp has made it no secret that he’s behind the push for former Gov. Sonny Perdue — David Perdue’s first cousin — to land the coveted position to lead the state’s higher education system as chancellor.

Sonny Perdue has promised to bring a more conservative approach to the role, upsetting some student groups and faculty who prefer a veteran administrator in the powerful job.

Kemp must now decide whether to use his political capital to advance Sonny Perdue through the process or block his new foe’s kin from the post.

At stake is one of the most important positions in state government, one that’s been filled by interim Chancellor Teresa MacCartney for months. The governor’s allies are uncertain what he’ll do, noting that his ties to Sonny Perdue run deep.

In 2010, Perdue chose Kemp to fill the open post of secretary of state, giving him a leg up over Republican rivals months before the election. And Trump credited both Perdues with helping to talk him into endorsing Kemp during a bitter 2018 GOP runoff for governor, powering his runaway victory over then-Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

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