Weighing primary challenge, Perdue suggests Kemp ‘caved’ in 2020

Former Senator David Perdue (R-GA) speaks at the Georgia GOP State Convention in Jekyll Island, Georgia on June 5th, 2021. Nathan Posner for the Atlanta-Journal-Constitution

Credit: Nathan Posner

Credit: Nathan Posner

Former Senator David Perdue (R-GA) speaks at the Georgia GOP State Convention in Jekyll Island, Georgia on June 5th, 2021. Nathan Posner for the Atlanta-Journal-Constitution

Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue delivered his sharpest comments yet about a possible primary challenge to Gov. Brian Kemp, saying Wednesday that divided Republicans feel the “people in power haven’t fought for them” during the 2020 elections.

Once a staunch ally of Kemp, Perdue has been seriously considering a primary challenge against Kemp for weeks. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in October that Perdue was calling donors and operatives to build support for a possible campaign against the first-term Republican governor.

Perdue, who was defeated by Democrat Jon Ossoff in January’s runoff, told Martha Zoller of WDUN on Wednesday that Georgia Republicans need to be unified as tough 2022 elections loom. U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock is standing for a full six-year term in the Senate and Stacey Abrams is expected to launch a second bid for governor.

“The fact that your phone is blowing up and my phone is blowing up, tells us something. We have a divided party in Georgia right now,” Perdue told Zoller.

“Forget about me. It’s divided. And a lot of people feel like that people in power haven’t fought for them and caved in to a lot of things back in 2020 that didn’t have to be done.”

It’s a reference to former President Donald Trump’s vendetta against Kemp over the governor’s refusal to call a special legislative session aiming to overturn the November election. The governor and his allies said heeding those demands would have violated the law, triggered “endless” litigation and distracted attention from January runoffs that decided control of the Senate.

Perdue echoed the former president’s falsehoods about election fraud during the runoff and didn’t acknowledge Joe Biden’s victory over fears of alienating Trump. He remains a close ally of Trump, who encouraged the former U.S. senator to run at a rally in Middle Georgia in September.

Kemp has not taken the prospect of a bitter primary challenge lightly. He has reloaded his campaign coffers, sharpened his reelection platform and unveiled volleys of endorsements. The Republican Governors Association has pledged its support. And on Monday his campaign returned to the airwaves with a TV ad to shore up support with his backers.

Many, though, are still on the sidelines or quietly waiting for a decision from Perdue that he might not announce until early next year. Among those who are encouraging Perdue to run is former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who said Sunday that he worries Kemp couldn’t beat Abrams.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan tweeted Wednesday that Perdue couldn’t “beat Jon Ossoff in 2020 using this same rhetoric,” costing Republicans control of the U.S. Senate. The former senator fired back online, saying that Duncan gave Abrams and other Democrats “everything she wanted + more.”

“Why didn’t you fight for all of us then instead of fighting us now?” Perdue tweeted. “You guys are too focused on fighting Trump, instead of stopping Biden & saving GA.”

Kemp’s campaign has said publicly that he would consider it a betrayal if the former senator entered the race — and privately that it would trigger a “scorched earth” battle that would leave both Republicans weakened. Kemp has also questioned why Perdue would bother.

“We have a record unemployment low right now of 3.2%, the lowest ever recorded that I’m aware of. We have the least number of Georgians unemployed on the rolls right now than we’ve had in 20 years,” Kemp said.

“So if anybody else wants to get in the fight, you would have to simply ask them, why?”

In the interview with Zoller, Perdue gave a glimpse at his answer. He invoked his first-cousin, Sonny Perdue, who was elected in 2002 to be the state’s first GOP governor since Reconstruction, and mentioned the pro-business reputation that he said Republicans have helped burnish.

“Well, the shine is coming off the apple right now a little bit, and I’m concerned about it. We have a lot of new people coming into Georgia, and we haven’t really taken care of our people the way that I think we should,” Perdue said. “So we end up being divided right now. So I’m very concerned about that.”

David Perdue and Brian Kemp embrace during happier times in 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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