Poll: Perdue still lags behind Kemp despite Trump’s help

A new Emerson College/The Hill poll shows Gov. Brian Kemp, left, leading former U.S. Sen. Davide Perdue 43% to 32% among GOP primary voters. The poll had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

A new Emerson College/The Hill poll shows Gov. Brian Kemp, left, leading former U.S. Sen. Davide Perdue 43% to 32% among GOP primary voters. The poll had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Former President Donald Trump’s rally to boost David Perdue’s campaign for governor hasn’t significantly improved his standing in the GOP primary against Gov. Brian Kemp, according to the first major public poll released since the late March event.

The Emerson College/The Hill poll showed Kemp leading Perdue 43% to 32%, one of several this year that peg the incumbent governor with a double-digit lead among GOP primary voters. The poll, which had a margin of error of 3 percentage points, found that 17% of voters are undecided.

In a hypothetical head-to-head November matchup, Kemp leads Democrat Stacey Abrams 51% to 44% in a separate poll of registered voters. Perdue is in a closer race, leading Abrams 49% to 44%.

The poll was conducted April 1-3 and involved 1,013 registered voters, 509 of whom are likely voters. It was commissioned by Nexstar, which owns three television stations in Georgia: WJBF in Augusta, WRBL in Columbus and WSAV in Savannah.

Separately, the poll showed former football star Herschel Walker with a hefty lead over his GOP Senate rivals. The Trump-backed Republican was at 57% in the poll, far ahead of his closest competitor, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, who was at 13%. About 16% are undecided.

Perdue’s allies hoped that Trump’s “rescue mission,” as some supporters privately called the former president’s rally on March 26 in Commerce, would provide a boost as he’s pushing new far-right messages to energize Trump’s base.

Despite his struggles, Perdue’s campaign said the poll proves he’s gaining traction because of the governor’s low-40s standing.

“Kemp realizes he’s in trouble with conservatives and is spending millions attacking Perdue,” Perdue spokeswoman Jenni Sweat said. “Those attacks aren’t working, and Perdue’s numbers will rise when he goes back on TV.”

Not surprisingly, Kemp spokesman Cody Hall had a different take. He framed Kemp’s lead as a clear signal that “Georgians aren’t buying what David Perdue is selling.”

“Every single public poll shows Gov. Kemp is the only Republican who will beat Stacey Abrams this November,” he said. “It is past time for David Perdue to realize he is the only thing standing in the way of Georgia Republicans achieving that goal.”

The campaign rhetoric aside, Kemp enters this final phase of the campaign with structural advantages beyond his lead in public polling.

He has an enormous financial advantage over Perdue, who reported roughly $1 million in the bank in his last disclosure. And the Republican Governors Association has now reserved about $5 million in airtime through the May primary to boost Kemp’s campaign.

The governor is also coming off a legislative session where he achieved every key item on his agenda, from pay hikes for teachers and public employees to base-pleasing efforts to expand gun rights and potentially restrict transgender athletes from competing in high school sports.

And each signing ceremony — to be dribbled out during a 40-day window that ends in early May — will be designed to shore up his support with swing voters for a potential rematch against Abrams or demonstrate his conservative credentials against Perdue.

In a troubling sign for Perdue, Trump has also begun to downplay the former senator’s chances shortly after he drew a smaller-than-typical crowd to his March rally in northeast Georgia.

Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue waves to supporters after speaking at former President Donald Trump's rally on March 26 in Commerce to support Perdue and other candidates he is backing in the GOP primary. Perdue, who is trying to unseat fellow Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, did not get a big bounce from Trump's appearance. He trails Kemp by double digits in the latest Emerson College/The Hill poll. (Megan Varner/Getty Images/TNS)

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“It’s a real close race. David is a good man. I hope he’s going to win it. Maybe we’ll have to do another rally. But it’s a shame. It’s a shame. Not easy to beat a sitting governor,” Trump told a conservative radio host this week. “Just remember that.”

The remarks were seen by Georgia Republicans as an indication that Trump was unlikely to dip deeply into his $110 million political war chest to help Perdue or the six other GOP candidates he endorsed ahead of the May primary. Trump’s aides have been tight-lipped on that question.

Though the race is seen as a test of Trump’s clout in 2022 and beyond, the poll offered mixed messages for the former president.

While a plurality of GOP primary voters — 38% — said Trump’s blessing of Perdue made them more likely to support his campaign, nearly one-third said it made them less likely to back the former U.S. senator. An additional 32% said it made no difference. And a majority of undecided Republican voters said Trump’s endorsement had no impact on their decision.

Here are other findings in the poll:

  • Voters are split on Kemp’s job performance, with 42% approving of his term as governor and 42% disapproving. About 17% have no opinion.
  • President Joe Biden’s numbers are underwater. Nearly 50% disapprove of the job he’s doing, while 42% approve. About 8% have no opinion.
  • A slim majority of Georgians — 52% — say the state “runs fair elections.” Nearly one-third of Georgians disagree, while about 18% are uncertain.
  • Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and U.S. Rep. Jody Hice are neck-and-neck in the race to oversee state elections. Raffensperger is at 29% while Hice is at 26%, within the margin of error. About 37% are undecided. The Democratic race is muddled.
  • About 49% of Georgians say marijuana should be legalized for recreational purposes in Georgia, while 38% say it should remain illegal. About 19% are uncertain.