The Jolt: Leaked audio reveals David Perdue’s post-Trump runoff strategy

Then-Sen. David Perdue speaks via video monitor during a rally ahead of a Senate runoff in Dalton, Georgia, in January. (Sandy Huffaker/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Then-Sen. David Perdue speaks via video monitor during a rally ahead of a Senate runoff in Dalton, Georgia, in January. (Sandy Huffaker/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Morning news and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The new book “This Will Not Pass” by New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns pulls back the curtain on the delicate balancing act that then-U.S. Sen. David Perdue navigated during his 2021 runoff against U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff.

In an hourlong audio recording of a Nov. 10, 2020 call with National Republican Senatorial Committee donors uncovered by the two journalists, Perdue talks of a strategy to win the runoffs in a post-Donald Trump era.

At the time, many senior Republicans wanted Perdue and then-U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler to focus on a message that keeping Republican control of the Senate would counter Democratic control of the White House by Joe Biden.

But doing so would have been an acknowledgement that Trump lost the 2020 election, just as he was ramping up his false claims of a “stolen” vote.

In the recording, Perdue pushes the “split government” strategy. Now challenging Gov. Brian Kemp with Trump’s support, Perdue falsely claims that Trump’s election and his own were all “rigged and stolen.”

On Perdue’s runoff strategy:

“And we believe, again, going back to this, not only libertarians, but there are people who voted in an anti-Trump way, voted for Biden and then voted down the list that we think that may come back to us in this plea for split government.”

On appealing to Never Trumpers:

“I think it has everything to do with, are we going to get enough conservative Republicans out to vote? And I’m talking about people that may have voted for Biden, but now may come back and vote for us because there was an anti-Trump vote in Georgia. And we think some of those people, particularly in the suburbs, may come back to us. And I’m hopeful of that.”

On Trump’s efforts to reverse his defeat:

“It looks like now may not be able to hold out, we don’t know that, but there are four states that they’re contesting and we’ll just have to see how that plays out. But we’re assuming that we’re going to be standing out here alone and that means that we have to get the vote out no matter what the outcome of that adjudication is on the recount in two states and some lawsuits and others.”

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In a preview of what could be ahead in the fall, the campaigns of Gov. Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams clashed Wednesday over the across-the-board tax cut that Kemp signed recently. That bill was supported by all Republicans and all but about a dozen Democrats in the General Assembly.

Early in the day, the Kemp team accused Abrams of “dodging simple questions” about whether she’d uphold the tax cut. That was based on Abrams not responding to a request for comment in a Forbes opinion piece, written by a conservative tax advocate.

On Wednesday, Abrams spokesman Michael Holloman fired back:

“Stacey Abrams is a Yale-trained tax attorney who single-handedly stopped what would have been the largest tax increase in Georgia history. She intends to continue utilizing her tax policy expertise to bring tax relief to Georgians, unlike Brian Kemp — who broke his promise to Georgia voters by not releasing his tax returns and therefore hiding from Georgians the amount of tax cut he signed into law for himself.”

That last point was in reference to the 2018 campaign, when Abrams released her tax returns but Kemp did not.

In response, Kemp’s spokesman said, “We appreciate Abrams admitting for the second time in a week that she opposes and would reverse the largest income tax cut in state history signed into law by Governor Kemp.”

Abrams’ team declined to comment on what Abrams would do with the recently signed tax cuts, but has never said she opposes or would “reverse” them.

***

Not long after Stacey Abrams revealed Thursday that she’s temporarily pausing her campaign fundraising solicitations to help abortion rights groups instead, we learned why she can afford a little financial breathing room.

Abrams reported Wednesday that she raised $11.7 million between February and April, ending the reporting period with more than $8 million in the bank.

Even with heavy spending – she’s already unloaded more than $9 million – she’s beginning to close an earlier fundraising gap with the governor.

Kemp reported this week that he added $2.7 million to his campaign account in the 26 days following the close of the legislative session, ending the latest reporting period with $10.7 million in cash on hand.

***

EV car and truck maker Rivian’s plan to build a massive manufacturing plant east of Atlanta plays a prime role in Gov. Brian Kemp’s election-year narrative that the state is ahead of the rest of the nation in creating jobs and prosperity.

But Kemp apparently didn’t promise Rivian it would be able to sell its cars and trucks directly to Georgians without going through a car dealer, which is currently required by Georgia law.

Instead, the Georgia Automobile Dealers Association successfully killed a bill this year that would have allowed Rivian to do just that.

In the car dealers’ latest campaign disclosure, our campaign finance nerd James Salzer found that the group contributed $7,400 to Kemp’s campaign for re-election after the session. That’s on top of the $8,100 the car dealers’ lobby previously gave Kemp’s re-election effort.

The association also gave $32,000 to various committees in recent months earmarked on disclosures as “support Brian Kemp,” including $10,000 to the House GOP’s PAC when the Rivian legislation was still up for consideration.

Not all of the $32,000 the association sent to PACs and committees to “support Brian Kemp” will likely go to that purpose.

Salzer noticed $2,500 under that heading was sent to Georgia Blue PAC. That’s the committee of the Georgia House Democratic leaders, who presumably are supporting Democratic nominee-in-waiting Stacey Abrams

***

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is expanding efforts to prevent noncitizens from voting in Georgia, an election-year move that comes after his office found that no noncitizens had cast ballots in recent elections.

Raffensperger announced Wednesday that citizenship checks of Georgia’s voter rolls are now a routine process.

An initial citizenship review in March showed that zero noncitizens have cast ballots in recent elections, but over 1,600 people with unverified citizenship had attempted to register over the years.

The focus on noncitizen voting is Raffensperger’s latest campaign-season initiative as he’s running for reelection in a tough Republican primary against U.S. Rep. Jody Hice.

***

POSTED: The Georgia High School Association’s executive committee voted 62-0 Wednesday to require that athletes compete based on the gender they were assigned at birth, a rule intended to prohibit transgender girls from competing on girls sports teams.

Gov. Brian Kemp and ruling Republicans cleared the way for the new rule with a measure that passed in the final hours of the legislative session so abruptly that few lawmakers saw it before a party-line vote to approve it.

***

Over the weekend, the Republican National Committee launched a new phase of voter engagement: “Operation Red.”

A group of about 900 volunteers knocked on nearly 50,000 doors and conducted more than 3,000 calls to energize Republican turnout ahead of the May 24 primary.

***

Today in Washington:

  • The House is in recess;
  • The Senate has one confirmation vote on the calendar and is likely to wrap for the weekend.

***

Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock told the AJC on Wednesday that the leaked Supreme Court ruling indicating that the court could overturn Roe v. Wade should motivate members of Congress to pass a law protecting access to abortion, even if it means changing the chamber’s 60-vote threshold to avoid a filibuster.

“I think that no Senate rule and no Senate procedure is more important than people’s constitutional rights,” he said. “And it is our duty as one of the three co-equal branches of government to find a way to stand with the American people, 70% of which believes that it is a woman’s right to choose.”

Warnock and U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff have earlier advocated for ending the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation.

Ossoff said this week that he supports passing a federal law that guarantees access to abortion. He has not yet decided whether he would support ending the filibuster to make that happen.

***

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday officially named members, including Sen. Raphael Warnock, to the conference committee with the House for legislation intended to make America more competitive against China.

A key provision will focus on bolstering semiconductor manufacturing. A shortage of semiconductors shutdown the Kia plant in West Point during the height of the pandemic.

Warnock spoke on the Senate floor Wednesday ahead of introducing tweaks to the Senate version of the legislation that would give HBCUs more money for research.

“When we invest in all of our young people, we position our economy to be strong 10 years, 20 years, 30 years into the future,” he said.

***

POSTED: Jeremy Hunt, one of six Republicans competing in the primary in Georgia’s 2nd Congressional District, has received his highest profile endorsement yet via former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.

She joins Newt Gingrich and U.S. Sens. Josh Hawley and Tom Cotton in backing Hunt’s campaign, despite criticism from his opponents that his ties to southwest Georgia are thin. Hunt attended Airborne training at Ft. Benning and moved to Columbus after he entered the race for Congress.

***

The “Together for Truth” conservative summit, scheduled for May 21 in Atlanta, will include U.S. Rep Burgess Owens, U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, and commentator Clay Travis as speakers. The group earlier announced that Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz will headline the event.

***

From the personnel department, Jaylen Black has been named as Stacey Abrams’ campaign press secretary.

For the last year, Black has served as a deputy press secretary for Sen. Raphael Warnock. She worked for the Democratic Party of Georgia during the 2020 election cycle.

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As always, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com and greg.bluestein@ajc.com.

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