David Perdue will challenge Brian Kemp in the Republican primary

U.S. Sen. David Perdue speaks at the State Capitol after qualifying for the 2020 election on March 2, 2020. (Photo by Beau Evans - Capitol Beat News Service)

Former Sen. David Perdue is set to launch a primary challenge against Gov. Brian Kemp, the latest escalation in former President Donald Trump’s attack on Republicans that failed to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election.

The news of Perdue’s expected re-entry into politics, first reported by Politico, comes less than a week after Democratic rising star Stacey Abrams announced her own campaign for governor, seeking a potential rematch after losing to Kemp by about 55,000 votes in 2018.

A representative for Perdue could not be reached Sunday, but multiple national and local media outlets report the 71-year-old, who lost to Sen. Jon Ossoff in a January runoff that gave Democrats control of the U.S. Senate, plans to release a video message announcing his run Monday.

Trump has openly pushed for Perdue to run and attacked the governor often, exacerbating a fractured Republican Party that saw stunning losses in Georgia’s presidential and Senate races after decades of dominance in the new battleground state.

Perdue supported Kemp in his 2018 election. The governor told reporters last week that Perdue previously told him he would not launch a challenge, and he hoped the former Senator would be a “man of his word.”

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At a rally in Perry, Trump called Perdue a “great guy” while blasting Kemp for being a RINO (Republican in name only) who was a “complete disaster for election integrity” for not overturning Trump’s narrow defeat, even musing that Abrams would be a better governor. 

“Of course, having her I think might be better than having your existing governor, if you want to know,” he said. “Stacey, would you like to take his place? It’s OK with me!”  

Georgia has been ground zero for the fight over America’s political future, from the direction of the Republican Party to voting rights. Trump has endorsed a slate of primary challengers, including Lt. Gov. candidate Burt Jones, Secretary of State candidate Rep. Jody Hice and U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker, and Perdue is expected to receive his blessing as well.

Former Democrat-turned Trump supporter Vernon Jones and Kandiss Taylor are also in the GOP primary for governor.

Kemp is the first lifelong Republican to be governor of Georgia since Reconstruction and has a decidedly conservative record since taking office in 2019, signing into law crackdowns on abortion and voting rights while shrinking state spending and enacting fewer government restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

It is unclear what Perdue’s platform will be beyond opposition to Kemp and support for Trump, but bitterness over recent election results is a driving force in grassroots Republican circles. In a recent radio interview, Perdue said the Republican Party was divided and said “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.”

Georgia’s election results were counted three separate times – including once by hand – to confirm that Trump lost and President Joe Biden won the state’s electoral votes, but some Republicans have refused to acknowledge the outcome.

In a statement, Kemp campaign spokesman Cody Hall called Perdue out of touch with Georgians and said his failed re-election campaign for Senate was responsible for enabling Biden’s agenda.

“Perdue’s only reason for running is to soothe his own bruised ego, because his campaign for U.S Senate failed to inspire voters at the ballot box – twice. Governor Kemp has a proven track record of fighting the radical left to put hardworking Georgians first, while Perdue is best known for ducking debates, padding his stock portfolio during a pandemic, and losing winnable races.”  

After failing to win outright in the November 2020 election Perdue’s campaign struggled in the runoff. He skipped an Atlanta Press Club debate, where video of Ossoff debating an empty lectern went viral. 

Just days before the election, Perdue left the campaign trail to quarantine after being exposed to someone that tested positive for the coronavirus, and had to skip a rally with Trump the night before the election. And in a video message at the rally, Perdue begged voters to show up to the polls after misinformation about the 2020 election led to a significant dropoff in conservative turnout that ultimately helped contribute to his defeat.

This story comes to The Georgia Sun through a reporting partnership with GA Today, a non-profit newsroom focused on reporting in Georgia.