The Jolt: Takeaways from the brawl between Brian Kemp and David Perdue

News and analysis from the politics team of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Gov. Brian Kemp (left) and former U.S. Sen. David Perdue sparred in the first debate of the Republican primary for governor on Sunday, April 24, 2022, at WSB-TV. (Photo: Miguel Martinez/

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Gov. Brian Kemp (left) and former U.S. Sen. David Perdue sparred in the first debate of the Republican primary for governor on Sunday, April 24, 2022, at WSB-TV. (Photo: Miguel Martinez/

It was less a debate and more of a barroom brawl. But we still learned plenty from the first Republican showdown between Gov. Brian Kemp and former U.S. Sen. David Perdue in their first debate on Channel 2 Action News:

The calendar says 2022, but the focus was 2020:

The first 23 minutes of the debate revolved around Perdue’s efforts to blame Kemp for Donald Trump’s loss in 2020 and the senator’s defeat in 2021.

Time and again, Perdue brought up the same false allegations that Donald Trump has pushed for more than a year about the “consent decree,” “special session” and GBI investigations – needling Kemp to the point where the two devolved into a shouting match.

Many of Perdue’s allegations were flat-out false. There was never a “consent decree” that Kemp agreed to in 2020, but rather a settlement between Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and the Democratic Party of Georgia over absentee ballot verification.

Perdue also said Kemp “would not investigate anything” in the aftermath of the 2020 elections. But state investigators opened and closed multiple investigations following GOP allegations and never found evidence of widespread fraud.

Instead, investigations found individual instances, such a husband returning a ballot for his wife.

The 2020 election wasn’t “rigged and stolen” as Perdue asserted in the very first sentence of his opening statement. Nor did Perdue “win” in 2020 against Democrat Jon Ossoff. While he won more votes than the Democrat in November, he fell short of the majority-vote needed to avoid a runoff.

The animosity is real.

“Did you bring a bulletproof vest?” read a text that one of your insiders received shortly before the debate began.

It was the first time that Kemp and Perdue had met face-to-face since Perdue announced his challenge in December – a move that Kemp saw as a ruthless betrayal.

In one exchange after another, the two pummeled each other.

“What happened, governor, did the pickup truck break down?” Perdue asked about Kemp’s famed 2018 ad promising to “round up” immigrants in the country illegally.

“Weak leaders blame everybody else for their own loss instead of themselves,” Kemp said at another point.

Veteran GOP strategist Brian Robinson likened the matchup to an episode of the Jerry Springer show.

“I’ve never seen such raw hatred in a debate on the state level,” he said. “It’s at the same level as those paternity test shows where the mom throws a chair at a man who swears he can’t be the father.”

Perdue’s no-holds-barred strategy

Behind in the polls and lagging in fundraising, Perdue has little to lose by throwing everything he can at Kemp. The governor, meanwhile, has a more delicate balancing act: He wants to show he’s a fighter, but not that he’s a mudslinger.

In this first debate, Kemp struggled with that balance. Several times, the two GOP candidates shouted over each other.

“I don’t know where that David Perdue was in 2020,” quipped one senior Democratic official.

The real winner of the debate

While the two GOP rivals went blow-for-blow, Stacey Abrams and her Democratic allies dispatched a string of press releases and fundraising appeals mocking the Republicans.

And the first TV ad to air on WSB after the hour-long debate ended? An Abrams spot featuring her own small business with her conservative entrepreneur partner.

Abrams has long planned to exploit the GOP divisions in November. The debate – and the next two showdowns – give her campaign even more ammo to hurl against whoever wins.


Last night’s debate is the focus of a special Monday edition of our Politically Georgia podcast.

Listen here or on Apple, Spotify, Google or wherever you get your favorite podcasts.


Mark your election calendars-- today is the last day to register to vote for the May 24th primaries. Early voting begins next Monday, May 2.

The Trump-backed challengers to Georgia incumbents are the most important dynamic to watch for Republicans in their statewide races.

And watch for two more rounds of debates later this week.


A group affiliated with the Republican Attorney Generals Association is sending its fire power into Georgia with a $400,000 ad buy for Attorney General Chris Carr.

The major ad buy is coming from “Peachtree Values,” and is designed to boost Carr in his May primary, when he faces Trump-backed businessman John Gordon. Gordon has said he’s challenging Carr “to take on voter fraud.”

Carr resigned his leadership position at RAGA in January of 2021 after the AJC reported that the organization had paid for robocalls to tell Trump supporters to march to the Capitol on Jan.6th to “stop the steal.” Carr said he had no knowledge of the robocalls, but did not resign from the group altogether.

RAGA was a major source of outside spending for Carr in his 2018 election.


U.S. Rep. Jody Hice is the Trump-backed challenger to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

On Saturday, the New York Times reported that Hice and U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene were identified by an aide to Mark Meadows as being involved in a plan to convince Vice President Mike Pence to throw out electoral votes from states that Joe Biden won, including Georgia. More:

“They felt that he had the authority to — pardon me if my phrasing isn't correct on this, but — send votes back to the states or the electors back to the states," Ms. Hutchinson testified, adding that they had appeared to embrace a plan promoted by the conservative lawyer John Eastman that members of both parties have likened to a blueprint for a coup.

Ms. Hutchinson suggested that White House lawyers had found the plan was not “legally sound" but that Mr. Meadows allowed it to move forward nonetheless.

- New York Times


Marjorie Taylor Greene on Friday became the first sitting member of Congress to testify publicly and under oath about her activities leading up to and on the day of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

But we didn’t learn much from her testimony during Friday’s hearing in state administrative court.

In a series of testy exchanges, Greene responded to questions posed by an attorney for the challengers saying she didn’t remember many of her remarks or actions leading up to the breach. The Rome Republican disputed video clips and news articles documenting her statements, dismissing them as manipulated by the “biased” media.

And though she acknowledged she promoted the rally that day supporting Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud, she said she never encouraged — or participated in — the violence that day that sought to block the formal vote to certify Joe Biden’s victory.

State Administrative Judge Charles Beaudrot will consider Friday’s testimony and come up with recommendations he will deliver to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in the coming days. Raffensperger will have the ultimate say on whether Greene is qualified to appear on the ballot.


Two allies Marjorie Taylor Greene has in her corner: Donald Trump and former Sen. David Perdue.

After Trump put out a statement supporting her, Perdue wrote on Twitter, “What happened to @RepMTG is shameful! I’m proud to stand with her in this fight against the establishment.”

The challenge to Greene’s eligibility came from five of her constituents and was organized by Our Revolution, the political organization founded by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.


Speaking of Marjorie Taylor Greene, she is headed to the U.S.-Mexico border as part of a congressional delegation led by House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, according to reporting by Punchbowl News.

McCarthy’s office announced Saturday that she would be among nine GOP lawmakers accompanying him on Monday’s visit.

The trip comes as McCarthy tries to smooth out relationships with the Republican Conference after he denied a report in a recently published book that said he planned to encourage President Donald Trump to resign after Jan. 6. Leaked audio proved that the book described his remarks accurately.


In endorsement news:

  • Committee for a New Georgia, the political arm of New Georgia Project, has endorsed Democrat Chandra Farley for the Public Service Commission Seat 3.


Attorney Gerald Griggs will become the next president of the Georgia NAACP after winning the support of a majority of delegates attending the state convention this weekend.

Griggs currently serves as first vice president of Atlanta NAACP. He told 11Alive News that police accountability will be a main focus of his tenure.

He will succeed outgoing President Barbara Pierce this week.


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