Sonny Perdue does Brian Kemp a solid at GOP rally in Middle Ga.

10/16/2020 -Macon, Georgia - U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue (right) give Gov. Brian Kemp a high five as he prepares to make remarks at a President Donald Trump rally at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon, Friday, October 16, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

10/16/2020 -Macon, Georgia - U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue (right) give Gov. Brian Kemp a high five as he prepares to make remarks at a President Donald Trump rally at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon, Friday, October 16, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer /

PERRY – Former Gov. Sonny Perdue’s speech to hundreds of Middle Georgia Republicans started off with an homage to competitive primaries. It ended with a plea for the crowd to show some respect to Gov. Brian Kemp.

Kemp has faced boobirds and backbiting from pro-Donald Trump activists who blame him for the former president’s defeat. But Perdue urged attendees at the 8th District GOP Fish Fry on Saturday to treat the first-term governor with dignity, and they responded by showering him with applause.

“That office, and the person who holds that office, deserves respect and deserves honor,” said Perdue, adding that the crowd should “demonstrate that respect and honor because it’s a tough job.”

Perdue’s admonition to his hometown audience — he hails from nearby Bonaire — would be noteworthy on its own since he’s one of the most influential Republicans in the state and, after serving as Trump’s agriculture secretary, is one of the former president’s closest allies in Georgia.

But his defense of Kemp takes on added significance given Perdue’s maneuvering to become the next leader of Georgia’s higher education system. Though the Board of Regents appointed an interim chancellor, the push to tap Perdue to the coveted post could still move forward.

It’s also important given his family ties. Trump’s allies are trying to convince Perdue’s first-cousin, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, to challenge Kemp in the GOP primary. The governor surely won’t mind the approving words from Sonny Perdue, who was the first Republican governor in Georgia since Reconstruction.

Perdue politely declined comment on his message to the GOP or his future plans, though he’s previously said he’s consulted with Kemp about the chancellor job and that he’s “passionate” about serving. Instead, he said he would let his speech on Saturday speak for itself, remarks that included these words about Kemp:

“I admire Brian Kemp and I guarantee you, if the person on a street texts him, he texts him back.”

Other takeaways from the Perry event, one of the mainstays on the GOP calendar:

Kemp got a rousing ovation from Republicans, unlike some other recent events when he faced heckling. The governor focused much of his remarks on a crowd-pleaser: The rewrite of the election law that includes new obstacles to the ballot box.

He vented that Democrats are using the Justice Department as a “political tool to sue our state over a bill that every single Republicans voted for because we were all frustrated at what happened in 2020 and we saw mechanical things we needed to fix in the process.”

As he spoke, one of his long-shot rivals jockeyed for attention. Vernon Jones, a party-switching ex-Democrat, posed for pictures with Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser under Trump who was granted a pardon after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia.

Three U.S. Senate candidates back-slapped their way around the room, courting activists and donors. But the newest name in the race was a no-show.

No one was particularly surprised that Herschel Walker bypassed the event. He’s yet to appear at a major Georgia GOP rally this year, and since entering the race this week he’s limited his public remarks to written statements, social media posts or appearances with friendly interviewers on Fox News.

But the former football star loomed over the fish fry even as Agriculture Secretary Gary Black, construction executive Kelvin King and former Navy SEAL Latham Saddler made the rounds.

Black felt particularly at home, given that the gathering was held in the Georgia Grown building at the Georgia National Fairgrounds. The “Georgia Grown” agriculture initiative is one of the hallmarks of Black’s tenure in office.

Saddler and his family mingled with activists throughout the cavernous room. And King and his wife celebrated the end of his 159-county tour, which he’s documented on social media.

The attendees, including party officials and operatives, buzzed with chatter about how the race will change now that Walker is officially running. Many talked of reports of Walker’s past, including the story detailing an ex-girlfriend who accused him of threatening her life, an allegation he denied.

“I don’t know a lot about him,” said Julie Woods Hill, an Alpharetta activist. “There’s a lot of uncertainty still. Obviously, he’s not here and I just don’t know where he stands on the issues.”

U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton/C-SPAN

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One of the warmest ovations went to U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, the hometown Republican who took center stage at the event.

He spoke of the growing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and derided the withdrawal of U.S. troops under President Joe Biden, which led to the swift takeover of the country by the Taliban. But he also laced into the $3.5 trillion social policy plan that Democrats are pushing through Congress.

“As bad as what’s happening in Afghanistan is, what’s happening in Washington is worse,” he said. “If they’re allowed to pass the reconciliation package, the economic opportunities we’ve enjoyed as Americans, as Georgians, are going to slip away.”

You could hardly turn around without bumping into an office-seeker.

Among those we saw working the room: Harold Earls, a 6th District candidate; Tyler Harper, who is running for agriculture commissioner; Jody Hice and David Belle Isle, both candidates for secretary of state; Burt Jones and Butch Miller, rivals for lieutenant governor; Rich McCormick, a 7th District contender; and Bruce Thompson, who is running for labor commissioner.

The no-shows were conspicuous, too. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, vilified by the pro-Trump crowd, wasn’t there but he had a presence of sorts. In a very odd effigy: