Kemp renews ad war as tumultuous 2022 election beckons

Gov. Brian Kemp doesn’t yet have a name-brand opponent for his reelection campaign. But he’s gearing up for what could be one of the nation’s toughest elections as former U.S. Sen. David Perdue threatens a primary challenge and Democrat Stacey Abrams prepares for a possible rematch.

The governor has already reloaded his campaign coffers, sharpened his reelection platform and unveiled volleys of endorsements. Now his campaign is returning to the airwaves with a minute-long TV ad released Monday that seeks to shore up support with both conservatives and independents.

“The last three years, Georgia’s been tested in ways we could never imagine,” the ad’s narrator said. “And it fell to Gov. Brian Kemp to successfully lead us during these troubling times.”

The ad reinforces Kemp’s campaign trail messaging about his law-and-order stances, support for a far-reaching election overhaul and aggressive economic approach during the COVID-19 pandemic. That narrative factors into the squeeze he’s facing from both sides of the aisle headed into 2022.

Perdue is seriously considering mounting a GOP challenge against Kemp in a race that would hinge on loyalty to Donald Trump. The former president has relentlessly attacked Kemp for refusing to illegally overturn his November election defeat and has repeatedly urged Perdue to run.

Though Perdue has said little publicly about taking on Kemp, his aides say he’s privately dialed up donors and operatives to line them up for a potential run. It’s not clear how soon he’ll make up his mind, though some say he could wait until early next year to decide.

While Kemp has locked down endorsements from hundreds of local officials, many are still on the sidelines or quietly waiting for Perdue’s decision. Among those who are encouraging Perdue to run is former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who said Sunday that he worries Kemp couldn’t beat Abrams.

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich said in a blog post that former President Donald Trump's feud with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has “virtually guaranteed that a Kemp nomination" will hand victory to Democrat Stacey Abrams in next year's race for governor.

Credit: Matt Rourke/AP

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Credit: Matt Rourke/AP

In a blog post, the ex-Georgian said that Trump’s feud with Kemp has “virtually guaranteed that a Kemp nomination will lead to an Abrams governorship — and all the fighting and alienation that kind of radical administration would bring with it.”

He wrote that the best GOP candidate to stop Abrams would be Perdue, who he said would channel the same outsider mojo that Glenn Youngkin leveraged to win the race for governor in Virginia earlier this month.

“Like Youngkin, Perdue’s natural instinct is to solve problems and bring people together,” Gingrich said. “Like Youngkin, Perdue can bring together the Trump base and those Republicans, independents, and moderate Democrats who will find Abrams too radical.”

That ignores the sharp differences between Youngkin and Perdue. Unlike the Virginian, Perdue has a voting record his opponents would use against him. The Georgia electorate is far more diverse than Virginia’s, and no GOP candidate in the state could keep Trump at arm’s length like Youngkin did.

Still, Perdue’s advisers have long echoed Gingrich’s assertion that Perdue is more electable than Kemp. Many Perdue supporters circulated a Newsweek cover story that included a quote from an anonymous Abrams “adviser” speculating that she could parlay a 2022 run for governor into a White House bid.

Abrams has never been shy about that possibility, often telling audiences that she one day aspires to be president. Though she has been mum about her political future, Democratic insiders expect her to announce a candidacy early next year, though some are getting antsy.

Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp, shown at a debate during Georgia's 2018 campaign for governor, could meet in a rematch next year. ALYSSA POINTER / THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

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Credit: Alyssa Pointer

The governor — and other Republican candidates for that matter — plans to run against Abrams regardless of whether her name is on the ballot. Kemp would try to make the case that he’s the only politician who has beaten her before — and the best positioned to do so again.

The ad he released Monday was his second of the campaign cycle, following a commercial that aired in July rebuking Major League Baseball for yanking its All-Star game from Georgia in protest of the state’s new election law. The latest spot highlights the state’s low jobless rate and efforts to stop the “radical left from defunding local police.”

“A long list of accomplishments — fighting human trafficking, increasing teacher pay, greater access to quality health care,” the narrator said. “A governor who works for Georgians — all of us.”

As for the Perdue challenge, Kemp’s campaign has said publicly that he would consider it a betrayal if the former senator entered the race — and privately that it would trigger a “scorched earth” battle that could leave both Republicans weakened. The governor, for his part, has questioned why Perdue would bother.

As Gingrich’s blog made the rounds, Kemp’s camp scoffed at the suggestion that Perdue would better unify the GOP. Several Kemp aides noted that Perdue failed to beat Democrat Jon Ossoff in both the November election and January runoff when the entire GOP machine was behind him.

“Perdue already had a ‘united’ GOP,” a Kemp ally texted The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He lost. Twice.”

U.S. Sen. David Perdue and then-candidate for governor Brian Kemp in 2018, when they were allies. Now, Perdue is said to be considering a run against Kemp with support from former President Donald Trump. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM


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