Donald Trump tried to jumpstart David Perdue’s flagging campaign for governor Monday by predicting the top of the GOP ticket in Georgia was doomed if the former U.S. senator lost the May 24 primary to Gov. Brian Kemp.
In a tele-rally phone call for Perdue, the former president told supporters that a vote for Kemp was a vote for Democrat Stacey Abrams because GOP turnout in November will nosedive if the governor is the party’s nominee.
He added that Kemp’s victory would also hurt Herschel Walker, the Trump-backed former football star who is expected to easily win the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.
“One of the problems also is if Brian Kemp gets in, I think it’s going to be very, very hard for Herschel Walker to win,” he said. “Because I don’t believe Republicans are going to go out and vote for Brian Kemp. And if they’re not voting for Brian Kemp, they’re not going to be able to vote for Herschel Walker.”
Perdue echoed Trump’s dire warning about the Senate seat, a top target of national Republicans aiming to retake control of the chamber: “If we want that Senate race, we have to win this governor’s race.”
The phone call, which lasted about nine minutes, punctuated the start of a three week in-person early voting period in an election dominated by Trump’s attempts to oust Kemp and other Republicans he blames for his humbling defeat to Joe Biden in Georgia.
The May primary is perhaps the biggest test of Trump’s influence in the nation. In recent weeks, Trump’s obsession with humiliating Kemp has only grown as the former president has endorsed longshot challengers to several of the governor’s entrenched allies.
Despite Trump’s intervention, Kemp leads Perdue by wide margins in every recent public poll and has a chance to smother his rival’s challenge with an outright victory in the primary. That would avoid an unpredictable June runoff that could breathe new life into Perdue’s campaign.
With the end of a trio of debates, Kemp is pouring in more resources to land the knockout blow. His campaign raised $2.7 million in April to fill the airwaves with more TV ads and he’ll soon sign a budget that includes raises for teachers and many other public employees.
If Perdue falters, it won’t be because Trump didn’t play his part.
The former president headlined two Kemp-bashing rallies in Georgia, filmed TV ads for Perdue and hosted a Florida fundraiser to boost his cash-strapped campaign account. And pro-Trump groups have booked more than $2.5 million worth of airtime for Perdue.
As he slips in the polls, though, Trump has downplayed Perdue’s chances. He’s talked up Kemp’s advantages and, in a New York Times interview, said the media should spotlight most of his endorsements – though “not the David Perdue one.”
The other marquee race on the GOP primary ballot is a quest for revenge. Walker seems all but guaranteed to win the nomination to face Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, though his rivals hope for a late surge that could force him into a June head-to-head matchup.
Democrats face little division on the top of their ticket. Abrams has no primary opponent in her second bid for governor, while Warnock drew a low-profile challenger.
But down the ticket, there are crowded races on both sides of the aisle for statewide offices, congressional seats and legislative districts that will determine the direction of each party.
The next three weeks are a make-or-break period for campaigns, as in-person early voting is typically the most popular way Georgians participate in elections. About 54% of voters cast ballots in advance during the 2020 presidential election.