The Jolt: Internal poll shows Brian Kemp close to outright primary win, despite Trump fight

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
May 18, 2021 Atlanta - Governor Brian Kemp speaks at his campaign office in Atlanta on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. (Hyosub Shin/

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

May 18, 2021 Atlanta - Governor Brian Kemp speaks at his campaign office in Atlanta on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. (Hyosub Shin/

The race for Georgia governor might as well have been a tossup when David Perdue entered the contest in December. Now Gov. Brian Kemp’s allies are increasingly confident they can avoid a runoff by scoring an outright win in the May 24 primary.

We obtained a poll late Monday from pro-Kemp group Hardworking Georgians that was conducted by Cygnal, a well-known polling firm. Though you should heed all the usual caveats about internal polls, the findings helped paint the picture of the political landscape in Georgia.

First, the top lines: Kemp leads Perdue 49-33, with another 5% backing Kandiss Taylor and roughly 12% undecided. Among “high-propensity” GOP voters, Kemp has already cleared the majority-vote threshold needed to avoid a June showdown, notching 51%.

And in a hypothetical head-to-head, Kemp leads Perdue 52-37 with 11% undecided. About 39% of GOP voters say they are “definitely” voting for Kemp, compared with 25% who say the same about Perdue.

Another significant data point in the poll: Roughly 87% of GOP voters are aware of Donald Trump’s endorsement. A Cygnal polling memo says that if Kemp gets enough “air support in the final six weeks of the primary, he will win without a runoff” and allow the GOP to pivot to defeating Stacey Abrams.

It’s the second poll we’ve seen since Trump’s March rally that showed Perdue trailing Kemp by double-digits. You can read the polling memo here, which outlines the methodology and the margin of error of three percentage points.

Derrick Dickey, a former Perdue aide who is now consulting with the pro-Kemp group, said the poll shows the “Trump effect on the primary has reached its apex and it isn’t nearly enough to overcome a popular incumbent governor who has been focused on getting results instead of trading insults.”

Perdue’s camp has generally responded to polls showing Kemp with a hefty edge by noting that the former senator still hasn’t yet poured significant money into a TV ad blitz. His aides also contend that any time a sitting governor is in the 40s in a poll it’s bad news.

Cygnal also polled likely general election voters with different GOP nominees. Kemp led Abrams 50-44 in the poll, while Perdue and Abrams were deadlocked. The poll pegged Abrams at 48% and Perdue at 47% -- within the margin of error of 3 percentage points.

As for the top issues of likely November voters, lowering inflation and gas prices scored highest, followed by growing the economy and making healthcare more affordable.

Dickey said Perdue’s “robotic subservience” to Trump is alienating middle-of-the-road voters who swing elections.

“These folks miss gas prices being under two bucks a gallon but could always do without the mean tweets,” he said. “Governor Kemp is winning over this group of voters by being his own man, showing you can have the right policies and the right tone.”

There’s more to unpack, which is why we’ve included the crosstabs for your viewing pleasure.


Gov. Brian Kemp will head to a gun store this afternoon to sign into law a measure that lets Georgians carry concealed handguns without a permit, fulfilling a campaign promise as he tries to stave off David Perdue’s challenge.

Kemp’s adversaries have planned their own counterprogramming. Perdue will hold an event this morning to highlight Atlanta’s violent crime rate and his own pledge to rollback gun restrictions.

And Democrats will hold a press conference near the Douglasville gun store to highlight what they call the “criminal carry” measure. Four state legislators are expected to speak against the measure.

Separately, we obtained a letter sent to Kemp this morning signed by seven Georgia mayors who oppose the new law. They note that more than 5,000 applicants were denied concealed weapon permits in 2020, mostly due to prior criminal records. From the letter:

Our constituents have been very vocal in sharing how this legislation would make them feel less safe in their communities. They join the 70 percent of all Georgians who oppose such a policy, as well as overwhelming majorities of gun owners, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents nationwide who agree that we must have high safety standards in issuing concealed carry permits.

We all care about public safety. The bottom line is that by eliminating an essential checkpoint in our system, this bill would make it easier for criminals to carry guns and make our streets more dangerous. We sincerely hope that you will take this information into account as you consider signing legislation that would have a detrimental impact on our communities’ safety and the safety of all Georgians.

It was signed by Kevin Brown of Buena Vista; Joyce Denson of Toomsboro; John Ernst of Brookhaven; Kelly Girtz of Athens-Clarke; Bobby Jenkins of Cuthbert; Van Johnson of Savannah; and Vince Williams of Union City.


While Republicans lean into wedge social issues ahead of the May primaries, Stacey Abrams’ campaign is framing her as “a Yale-trained tax attorney and small business owner.”

That’s the language in a press release ahead of a new ad that focuses on one of the several businesses Abrams has founded or co-founded.

The “Super Power” ad focuses on NOWAccount Networks, a financial services firm that Abrams co-founded in 2010 along with Lara Hodgson and John Hayes, which finances small businesses.

Abrams is also the CEO of Sage Works Productions, a production company in Georgia with several projects under development, and co-owner/ COO of The Family Room, Inc., which Abrams describes as “a social app that combines connectivity and activity for young kids and the adults in their lives.”

Here’s more on the ads.


POSTED: Mark Niesse has the full report from the first day of a major voting rights trial in Atlanta federal court Monday.

He reports that “opening statements by each side marked a stark contrast in the federal trial, where a judge will hear testimony over the next month to determine if Georgia’s elections procedures illegally burden eligible voters.”

A decision in the case is not expected before Georgia’s May 24 primary.


U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath (D-GA) speaks during a press conference on the passage of gun violence prevention legislation on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 11, 2021. (Yuri Gripas/ABACAPRESS.COM/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

Congresswoman Lucy McBath was in the audience Monday as President Joe Biden announced new gun control measures, including a crackdown on so-called “ghost” firearms that are made from kits purchased online without a background check.

McBath, who became a gun control activist after her son’s murder, said in a statement after Monday’s event that it helps keep his memory alive.

“Each time I stand in support of common-sense solutions to keep our families safe, I carry with me the memories of thousands of men, women, and children – children like my son Jordan – who are no longer with us because of senseless and preventable gun violence,” the Marietta Democrat said.

McBath was also among the Georgians invited to the White House on Friday for a celebration of the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.


Look for U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock to take another victory lap today as, for the second day in a row, the White House takes action on an issue the Georgia senator has championed.

It started with Vice President Kamala Harris announcing on Monday that the federal government is stepping up its oversight of medical debt collectors to root out “bad actors.” The Consumer Finance and Protection Bureau will take a more active role in punishing companies that harass or mislead patients about their debts.

Warnock was among five senators who sent a letter to CFPB Director Rohit Chopra two weeks ago asking for action and citing, among other things, “harassment from debt collectors.”

He released a statement after Harris’ speech taking some credit for the news.

“I’m glad that at my urging, the White House is announcing aggressive new action to lessen the devastating burden of medical debt on Georgians in every corner of our state,” Warnock said.

Sen. Raphael Warnock, shown campaigning in January 2021, tested positive for COVID-19 this week, along with Sen. Susan Collins and others. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

Another issue Warnock has hammered in recent weeks is the rising cost of gasoline. President Joe Biden will announce later today that the Environmental Protection Agency will allow gasoline that uses a 15% ethanol blend to be sold this summer. Sales of so-called E15 gas are generally prohibited from June 1-Sept. 15 because of its potential impact on air quality, but the EPA will allow an emergency waiver.

This E15 blend can be 10 cents a gallon cheaper on average, the White House says.

We won’t be surprised if we hear from Warnock later today that Biden’s latest action was once again the byproduct of his “urging.”


It’s great to be near the top of the rankings-- unless it’s a list from NPR’s veteran politics reporter Dominico Montanaro about the top 10 Senate seats most likely to flip from one party to another this year.

Montanaro ranks Georgia’s U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock’s seat as the second most likely to flip to Republicans in 2022.

The strongest headwinds for Warnock are not self-made, however. NPR points to President Joe Biden’s low approval numbers in Georgia as the senator’s biggest challenge, although he has about $30 million in the bank to spend against whomever wins the GOP primary to challenge him in November.


Planning is well underway to turn out voters in November. Our AJC colleague Shelia Poole reports that voting rights advocates and faith leaders will meet today to discuss strategies in the wake of new voting laws in Georgia, coupled with Washington Democrats’ failure to advance federal voting protections at the federal level.

Two of the groups that will be most active in 2022 are founded by Stacey Abrams, who will be the Democratic nominee for governor on the November ballot: Fair Count and the New Georgia Project.


In endorsement news:

  • Democratic state Rep. Shelly Hutchinson, whose district includes Lawrenceville and Snellville, is backing U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath in the 7th Congressional District;
  • Americans for Prosperity Action Georgia, which is funded by the Koch family to carry out its conservative political agenda, has endorsed Dr. Rich McCormick in the 6th Congressional District;


The popular “Pothole Posse” is back. Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens announced Monday that he is recreating the effort originally conceived by former Atlanta mayor and Dickens’ mentor, Shirley Franklin.

Our J.D. Capelouto has the details on how you can get the City of Atlanta’s new roving road repair professionals to come to your block.


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