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The Worst Played Hand in American Politics Right Now
David Perdue had not intended to jump into the Georgia gubernatorial race when he did. Just a few months before, Perdue had still been telling people he was backing Brian Kemp despite pressure from the Trump campaign. He needed some time to distance himself from his public support for Kemp.
On December 1, 2021, Stacey Abrams made her move. She announced she would, as everyone suspected, run for governor again. Just four days later, David Perdue entered the race too. According to David Perdue, “When Stacey Abrams announced, it forced my hand, honestly. I was conflicted.”
Perdue entered with internal polling that showed only Perdue could unite the GOP and beat Abrams. His polling showed him beating Kemp with over fifty percent of the Republican primary vote. Every public poll since has shown Kemp crushing Perdue and a Perdue v. Abrams race a toss-up where Kemp scores decisive wins against both.
It was foolish and foolhardy and Perdue’s loss in May will give President Trump the first endorsement black eye on the campaign trail. It is the worst played hand in politics in America today.
Perdue entered at the beginning of December. I have talked to multiple members of the Georgia state legislature in both the House and Senate who confirm to me on background that each was pressured by Trump surrogates to publicly endorse Perdue or face a primary challenge.
“The reality in Georgia has always been Republicans want to beat Stacey Abrams and they were never going to do so by replacing the only man to beat her with the man who couldn’t even beat Jon Ossoff.”
Not only did Perdue not get those endorsements, but those state legislators also escaped primaries and were so thoroughly pissed off by the pressure that they helped Governor Kemp get his agenda over the line, including a few votes they might not have otherwise sided with Kemp on.
Perdue, egged on by Abrams, entered the race before the 2022 Georgia legislative session, which encouraged Brian Kemp’s team to go for broke in the session. The Republicans in the legislature largely rallied to Kemp’s agenda signaling Perdue will not get the endorsements he desired and Perdue’s entry gives Kemp some major wins on which to campaign.
Had he been more patient and less swayed by Stacey Abrams, Perdue could have waited to surprise everyone during last month’s qualifying period. It would have thrown Governor Kemp off his game, perhaps denied Kemp some legislative wins, and given Perdue greater momentum. Instead, like a fish out of water, Perdue has flopped around Georgia with a mixed message mostly focused on relitigating the 2020 election with a minimal agenda on which to run.
Brian Kemp cut off major sources of Perdue fundraising through a political finesse many of his opponents did not believe he possessed. Kemp realigned the Georgia Board of Regents to ensure Perdue’s cousin, Trump Secretary of Agriculture and former two-term Governor of Georgia Sonny Perdue, got appointed Chancellor of the University System of Georgia. Alec Poitevint, who served as campaign chairman for every statewide Perdue race in Georgia — yes, Sonny and David — threw his weight and fundraising clout behind Brian Kemp. Eric Tannenblatt, Sonny Perdue’s one-time gubernatorial chief of staff and powerful political operator in Georgia, also aligned with Kemp. David Perdue thought he could rely on the Perdue name to fundraise out of Middle and South Georgia. But with Sonny Perdue’s appointment as Chancellor, all that money and support shifted to Kemp.
Then there was the legislative session itself. The Republican legislators, who usually cannot agree on much of anything, handed Kemp a series of serious policy wins he will now tour the state signing into law. Kemp just scored tax cuts and surplus rebates for voters; pay raises for teachers; permitless gun carry for the second amendment crowd; transgender sports bans, curriculum transparency, and mask mandate bans for parents; an expansion of Georgia’s school choice scholarship for students; and liability and nuisance protection for South Georgia farmers. Kemp even scored student loan forgiveness plans for workers in the mental health field in rural parts of the state.
During the legislative session, Perdue got caught blasting Kemp for refunding taxpayers part of Georgia’s enormous budget surplus and for giving teachers pay raises. Perdue also has not agreed to be on a debate stage with Kemp.
Kemp has outraised Perdue and Abrams with mostly in-state dollars. Both Abrams and Perdue have seen about 80% of their money come from outside Georgia, but Abrams is on track to raise more money from Georgians than Perdue. Kemp stopped talking about or attacking Perdue more than a month ago, but with word that Perdue intended to advertise against Kemp, Kemp just went back up on air reminding voters Perdue opposed both the surplus refund to taxpayers and teacher pay raises.
If you wanted a textbook example of how not to run a campaign, David Perdue has provided one. From the very first lesson of not letting Democrats bait you into making your announcement to the final lesson of not attacking giving taxpayers back their own money, Perdue has done just about everything wrong.
I am actually really struck by just how bad the campaign has gone. David Perdue is a fine and decent man who got talked into doing something he should have never done and did it in the most embarrassing way. Being the first high profile loss for Donald Trump will undoubtedly earn Perdue no grace at Mar-a-Lago. It is a sad and embarrassing end for a good man with too much time on his hands.
When Perdue entered the race, a mutual friend flummoxed by his decision explained it as, “Reality just works differently when you visit Mar-a-Lago.” The reality in Georgia has always been Republicans want to beat Stacey Abrams and they were never going to do so by replacing the only man to beat her with the man who couldn’t even beat Jon Ossoff.
Perdue could (not that he would) start working now to unite the party behind Kemp and perhaps mend fences or at least save face and go on quietly to the primary. He should. But a campaign team that seemed to convince him of something that was never true is probably not equipped to help him salvage his reputation in the GOP. Perdue’s campaign will probably just dish out more attacks and help Stacey Abrams, the lady Perdue said “forced [his] hand.”
He really should consider a quiet wind-down of his campaign.