Kemp’s allies rally to his corner as Perdue threat looms

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Credit: Greg Bluestein

The endorsements came in rapid fire as Gov. Brian Kemp stood in his campaign office flanked by some of the state’s top law enforcement officials.

First, Attorney General Chris Carr declared the first-term Republican to be a “decisive conservative.” Then Insurance Commissioner John King, a former police chief, said Kemp “unapologetically” backs the blue. Some 108 sheriffs, including about a dozen on hand for the event, joined the chorus of support.

Normally, the wave of endorsements from GOP figures rallying behind a Republican incumbent would merit little attention. But with a possible primary challenge from former U.S. Sen. David Perdue looming, there was an implicit message tied to Kemp’s Tuesday event: If there’s a primary fight, it will be a bloody one.

“Look, I’m not worried about what other people are doing in politics. I can only control what I’ve been doing,” Kemp said at the Cobb County gathering. “I have been in this fight with these people standing behind me. My family has been in the fight with them. And we are going to stay in the fight with them.”

Though Kemp’s backers are split on the likelihood of a Perdue challenge, his campaign is taking the threat seriously. His allies have warned that if the ex-U.S. senator runs, there would be a “scorched earth” campaign that could irrevocably split the GOP this cycle.

The Georgia Statehouse is abuzz about the potential GOP primary between two powerful Republicans that could leave the party weakened in a general election against Stacey Abrams, an iconic figure in Democratic politics who is expected to run.

Credit: John Bazemore

Credit: John Bazemore

Lawmakers and lobbyists tell stories about major donors calling Perdue urging him not to run against Kemp — or quietly pledging their support if he does. An Instagram post featuring several prominent GOP consultants at a concert bearing a caption with Perdue’s slogan, “#TeamOutsiders,” sparked more chatter over the weekend.

Perdue, for his part, has largely dodged questions about a challenge, though he seemed to downplay the idea at a Republican gathering Monday in Brunswick.

He told the crowd of roughly 50 people that “Georgia already has a governor” and that Republicans needed to be united in 2022 against Democrats who are already flooding the airwaves with praise of President Joe Biden’s agenda.

“I want a unified Georgia,” he said at the meeting, according to The Brunswick News. “I want a unified Republican Party.”

A Perdue ally said the remarks shouldn’t be taken as a signal that he has abandoned the idea of a challenge. Several of the former senator’s supporters suggest he could wait until before qualifying next year to decide whether to run, while others say he could make his move sooner.

Perdue’s advisers also note that he’s been in steady contact with former President Donald Trump, who would presumably endorse the former senator if he entered the race. The former president has repeatedly slammed the governor because he refused to illegally overturn Trump’s election defeat in Georgia, and he even suggested that he wished Abrams had defeated Kemp in 2018.

The governor, who already faces a quixotic primary challenge from former Democrat Vernon Jones, has long prepared for a more formidable Republican to enter the race.

Credit: Nathan Posner

Credit: Nathan Posner

He’s landed dozens of legislative endorsements and pursued a range of initiatives to energize conservatives, including a new legal battle over federal vaccine mandates and recent visits to the U.S. border with Mexico to assail Biden’s immigration policy.

Kemp also recently released figures months before the next reporting deadline to demonstrate his financial strength heading into 2022. His aides said he has raised more than $4 million since July 1 and that he boasts nearly $13 million in cash on hand between his campaign and an affiliated political action committee.

At Tuesday’s event, Carr described the governor as the “exact leader that we’ve needed” during the pandemic, while Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds called him a steadfast ally to law enforcement officers.

Kemp, meanwhile, touted a law-and-order agenda that included crackdowns on street racing and bonuses for many of the state’s first responders.

But he expanded his remarks to mention other initiatives, such as his support for anti-abortion legislation and Georgia’s robust economy, and he questioned why a fellow Republican would try to undercut him with his party’s base.

“We have a record unemployment low right now of 3.2%, the lowest ever recorded that I’m aware of. We have the least number of Georgians unemployed on the rolls right now than we’ve had in 20 years,” Kemp said.

“So if anybody else wants to get in the fight, you would have to simply ask them, why?”