Trump to headline March rally in Georgia to boost Perdue, Walker

Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., takes a selfie with President Donald Trump during the seventh inning of Game 5 of the baseball World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

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Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., takes a selfie with President Donald Trump during the seventh inning of Game 5 of the baseball World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Former president to back slate of five contenders he endorsed

Donald Trump will headline a rally in Georgia this month to try to turn the tide of the election against Gov. Brian Kemp and other Republicans he’s vowed to unseat.

The former president will headline a March 26 event in Commerce — a short hop from Kemp’s hometown of Athens — to help former U.S. Sen. David Perdue and other GOP candidates. It’s part of Trump’s ongoing vendetta against Kemp and other state leaders who rejected his attempt to overturn his 2020 defeat in Georgia.

Trump is ratcheting up support for his growing slate of Georgia candidates ahead of Georgia’s May 24 primary, which might serve as the most important test of his clout in the nation.

ExploreLive coverage and photos of Trump rally in Commerce, Georgia March 26

The other candidates he’s backing are Herschel Walker, who’s running for the U.S. Senate; state Sen. Burt Jones, a candidate for lieutenant governor; U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, who is campaigning to oust Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger; and Vernon Jones, who is competing for an open U.S. House race.

Other contenders for U.S. House seats and statewide office are aggressively seeking the former president’s blessing, including 6th District candidate Jake Evans and John Gordon, who this week qualified to challenge Attorney General Chris Carr.

Democrats have welcomed the GOP infighting between Trump-backed contenders and their Republican rivals.

“Trump’s increasing involvement in this primary is fueled more by his hatred of Kemp than support for Perdue — now, he’s coming to Kemp’s own backyard to taunt the governor as he continues trying to oust him,” said Max Flugrath, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Georgia.

A major test of Trump’s clout

Perdue’s challenge hinges on Trump’s support. He invokes the former president at the start of every campaign stop and echoes Trump’s falsehoods about widespread election fraud costing him the 2020 election.

Trump filmed a direct-to-camera TV spot for Perdue that’s now airing statewide. And Donald Trump Jr. completed a statewide swing this week to boost the former senator’s campaign.

There’s plenty of reason for Trump to step up his commitment. Perdue’s campaign serves as one of the marquee tests of his influence, and he has vowed to defeat Kemp after the governor refused his demands to reverse his narrow 2020 defeat, something the governor has no power to do.

Trump also will hold fundraisers at his Mar-a-Lago resort next week for Perdue and Vernon Jones, the ex-Democrat who dropped out of the race for governor at the former president’s urging to run for a rural congressional seat.

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Former Democrat Vernon Jones, who is running in the 10th Congressional District's GOP primary, will benefit from a fundraiser former President Donald Trump will hold March 17 at his Mar-a-Lago resort. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Former Democrat Vernon Jones, who is running in the 10th Congressional District's GOP primary, will benefit from a fundraiser former President Donald Trump will hold March 17 at his Mar-a-Lago resort. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

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Former Democrat Vernon Jones, who is running in the 10th Congressional District's GOP primary, will benefit from a fundraiser former President Donald Trump will hold March 17 at his Mar-a-Lago resort. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

The location of the rally is also significant. Commerce is at the heart of a rural northeast Georgia region that’s home to a trove of conservative voters. It’s also a key part of the 10th Congressional District, left vacant when Hice decided to challenge Raffensperger with Trump’s blessing.

The timing couldn’t be better for Perdue.

Several recent public polls show the former U.S. senator in a bind, including a Trafalgar Group survey that pegged Kemp at 49% to 40% for Perdue. Several of those polls also show a significant number of GOP voters aren’t aware of Trump’s endorsement.

Kemp has built an enormous fundraising advantage over Perdue, who reported less than $900,000 in his campaign account earlier this month and has yet to pump his own money into his campaign. The governor, by contrast, had a war chest of nearly $13 million in his most recent campaign finance report.

For the first time in its history, the Republican Governors Association has launched ads for an incumbent battling a GOP primary challenge, with a slate of TV spots this month that promote Kemp.

And Kemp is leveraging the raw powers of his office to counter Perdue, including recent moves to appoint a protégé of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to the state’s highest bench and clear the way for Sonny Perdue — David’s first cousin — to lead the higher education system.

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Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, left, has been trailing Gov. Brian Kemp in both fundraising and recent polls. Former President Donald Trump will come to Georgia on March 26 to rally supporters behind Perdue's effort to unseat Kemp in the GOP primary.

Credit: AJC

Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, left, has been trailing Gov. Brian Kemp in both fundraising and recent polls. Former President Donald Trump will come to Georgia on March 26 to rally supporters behind Perdue's effort to unseat Kemp in the GOP primary.

Credit: AJC

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Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, left, has been trailing Gov. Brian Kemp in both fundraising and recent polls. Former President Donald Trump will come to Georgia on March 26 to rally supporters behind Perdue's effort to unseat Kemp in the GOP primary.

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

Perdue has tried to peel off Kemp’s base by fighting the $5 billion proposed Rivian electric-vehicle plant east of Atlanta, which has sparked a grassroots opposition movement. And he’s emphasized his support for a stalled Buckhead cityhood push, eliminating the state income tax and a sweeping gun rights expansion.

But Trump’s endorsement remains at the center of his campaign, and Perdue highlighted the former president’s pivotal role as he welcomed the rally.

“Georgians are ready for a bold conservative who will fight the political establishment,” Perdue said, “instead of caving to radical liberals like Brian Kemp has done every step of the way.”