Kemp qualifies for race with focus on Abrams and no mention of Perdue

‘Our sights are focused on who the real opponent is going to be,’ governor says

Gov. Brian Kemp signed up to run for a second term Thursday with an elaborate ceremony meant to showcase his broad conservative coalition. What was missing in his speech was any mention of David Perdue, his Donald Trump-backed Republican rival.

In remarks replete with critiques on “woke cancel culture” and the “radical left,” Kemp instead focused his attacks on Stacey Abrams, the Democratic voting rights advocate making a second bid for governor after her defeat to Kemp in 2018.

“We are in a fight for the soul of our state against Stacey Abrams, Joe Biden, the national media and many far-left allies that will be playing in this game,” Kemp said, as supporters waved red-and-black placards behind him.

“Stacey Abrams’ dangerous agenda would take our state in an entirely different direction,” he said.

The governor’s message may herald a new campaign strategy that puts more emphasis on Abrams and less on the nasty Republican-on-Republican infighting with Perdue.

Though Kemp’s aides aren’t downplaying the threat from the former U.S. senator, the governor has built an enormous fundraising advantage and has solid, though not overwhelming, leads over Perdue in recent polls.

If Thursday’s remarks are any indication, Kemp is likely to intensify his argument to conservative voters that he’s the best candidate to defeat Abrams in November because he’s the only Republican to have ever bested her.

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

“Here’s the good news: We’ve already beat her once. And we’re in the fight in 2022 to make sure Stacey Abrams is never our governor or our next president,” Kemp said.

“The road ahead will not be easy,” he said. “The media, Hollywood and the elites will all be against us. But they’ve come after us before, and together we stood strong and won.”

Perdue has made the same case at campaign stops across the state. Shortly after qualifying on Wednesday, he told reporters that he’s the only Republican who can unite a party that was fractured after the 2020 election.

“I just don’t see how Brian is going to pull together all the Republican Party to stand up against Stacey. They’re too upset about too many things right now,” Perdue said. “I believe, based on what we did in 2020, I’m the guy that can pull us together.”

His case for election hinges on his endorsement from Trump, who retains formidable clout among Georgia Republicans.

The former president vowed to defeat Kemp after the governor refused to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia, something he has no power to do. And Trump is expected to headline a rally this month for Perdue and the rest of his slate of endorsed candidates in Georgia.

Abrams has been content to sit back and let the Republican warring escalate without injecting herself into the back-and-forth. She’s mostly focused on raising campaign cash and building her political operation, though her strategy will soon shift.

She is planning her first foray onto the campaign trail later this month, and she is centering her message on many of the policies that came to define her last bid: increased funding for education, a more equitable economy and, above all, the expansion of Medicaid.

“The last four years of inaction and ineptitude by the current governor means that I’m simply trying again to do what’s right for Georgia,” she said. “And I believe this time we will get it done.”

Kemp’s event might as well have served as his response. The flock of allies standing behind him included U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, a high-ranking House Republican who delivered an unequivocal endorsement. Sporadic chants of “four more years” broke out, echoing throughout the Gold Dome.

Standing with his wife and two of his three daughters by his side, Kemp said he relished the battle to come.

“We’ve been waiting for this day for three years,” the governor said, adding: “We’re not taking this for granted, but our sights are focused on who the real opponent is going to be.”