David Perdue, the former senator from Georgia who lost his seat to Jon Ossoff, plans to challenge Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in the Republican primary, according to three people familiar with the decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss the upcoming announcement.
A spokesman for Kemp on Sunday accused the former senator of running to “soothe his own bruised ego,” and risking Republican control of Georgia after bungling his runoff campaign and putting Democrats in charge of the Senate.
“It may be difficult for David Perdue to see this over the gates of his coastal estate, but Joe Biden’s dangerous agenda is hitting hardworking Georgians in the wallet and endangering their livelihoods,” Kemp spokesman Cody Hall said in a statement. “And we all have David Perdue to thank for it.”
Perdue was narrowly forced into a runoff in the 2020 election, which he went on to lose to Ossoff (D). Trump loomed over the contest, attacking the results of the election and using two pre-runoff rallies to air baseless claims about his defeat.
Perdue, hurt by reporting on stock trades he had made after an early pandemic briefing for senators, refused to debate Ossoff and spent the race’s final days self-isolating after being exposed to the coronavirus. He briefly considered a run for the state’s other Senate seat, which is up for election next year, but backed out in February.
Trump has repeatedly attacked Kemp over the governor’s refusal to challenge President Biden’s narrow victory in Georgia, calling for him to face a primary. While Democrat-turned-Republican Vernon Jones quickly announced a run against Kemp, Trump’s Save America PAC conducted polling on a potential Perdue campaign. The results, released in August, found Kemp narrowly ahead of Perdue, with the former senator leaping ahead if Trump endorsed him.
At a Sept. 25 rally in Perry, Ga., in support of GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker, Trump criticized Kemp’s record and even belittled his physical status. Calling Perdue out by name, Trump egged the former senator on to mount a bid to unseat Kemp.
“I want to thank some of the other terrific Republican leaders, and we have some great ones in your state that are with us tonight,” Trump said at the rally. “A friend of mine and a great senator, a man who — I don’t know, are you going to run for governor, David Perdue? Are you going to run for governor? Where is David Perdue? Stand up, David. David Perdue, are you running for governor, David? Did I hear he’s running for governor? Thank you, David. He’s a great guy and he loves this state, and he’s done a fantastic job.”
Trump has continued to push Republican-led audits of election results and sow doubt in the integrity of elections across the country but has especially questioned results in Georgia, which Biden won by fewer than 12,000 votes. There has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud that would have changed the results of the election.
National Republicans have voiced dread over the idea of a primary in Georgia, with the winner facing Democrat Stacey Abrams, who has no competition for her party’s nomination.
Perdue “told me he likes Brian personally but doesn’t believe Brian can win and doesn’t want to see Stacey Abrams as the governor of Georgia,” said one Georgia Republican, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Perdue’s decision.
The decision could drive a wedge between Kemp and a powerful political family he worked with on his rise to power. Perdue’s cousin, former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue, appointed Kemp secretary of state in 2010. The former governor, who went on to serve as Trump’s agriculture secretary, appeared at a rally with Kemp this summer, after Kemp backed his effort to become chancellor of the University of Georgia.
According to Kemp’s spokesman, David Perdue had told Kemp personally that he would not challenge him, before reversing course. Asked about the possibility on Thursday, Kemp told reporters that he hoped Perdue would “be a man of his word,” but that wasn’t “anything I can control.”
At last month’s meeting of the Republican Governors Association, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey brushed off a question about a “hypothetical” Georgia primary and whether the group would spend money to help Kemp.
“The RGA is in the business, of course, of supporting our incumbents and ultimately electing Republican governors,” said Ducey, the RGA’s chairman. “That’s what would continue to be our focus.”
Kemp’s campaign has been mocking Perdue over the same things Ossoff had, including his wealth and the stock trades.