ATLANTA (AP) — Republican David Perdue qualified to run for Georgia governor on Wednesday, professing confidence that he can beat incumbent Brian Kemp in the GOP primary despite lagging behind in polls and fundraising.
“I believe I’m the only one that can pull our party together andbeat Stacey Abrams in the fall,” the 72-year-old former U.S. senator told reporters, pressing the idea that many Republicans remain angry at Kemp for not doing more to try to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s win in Georgia in 2020.
Kemp says he has no power to alter election results and notes that he beat Abrams in 2018, while Perdue lost in 2021 to Democrat Jon Ossoff.
Former President Donald Trump recruited Perdue into the race in an effort to unseat Kemp, and Perdue has been betting that Trump’s support will help him overcome his late start and monetary disadvantage.
“I just don’t see how Brian is going to pull together all of the Republican Party to stand up against Stacey,” Perdue said. “They’re too upset about too many things right now.”
Both Kemp and Perdue have been trying to position themselves as the Republican most likely to beat Democrat Stacey Abrams, who has no declared opposition in her party with two days of qualifying left. Republican Kandiss Taylor also has qualified to run for governor.
Perdue is mounting a rare, serious primary threat to a sitting governor that some observers say could leave the winner so weakened that he will have trouble facing Abrams. Maybe the most recent analog in Georgia history is Zell Miller’s failed Democratic primary challenge to U.S. Sen. Herman Talmadge in 1980. Talmadge beat Miller, but lost to Republican Mack Mattingly in the general election. Mattingly was the first Republican elected senator or governor in Georgia in more than 100 years.
Born in Macon, Perdue was a business consultant and then an executive at companies shifting clothing production to Asia. He became CEO of Reebok, textile firm PillowTex and discount retailer Dollar General. The cousin of former governor and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, David Perdue was elected to the Senate in 2014, beating Democrat Michelle Nunn. He lost his reelection bid in a runoff to Democrat Jon Ossoff in 2021. That win, along with fellow Democrat Raphael Warnock beating Republican Kelly Loeffler, gave Democrats control of the U.S. Senate.
Perdue is part of a slate of Trump-backed candidates in Georgia Republican primaries, including Herschel Walker running against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, state Sen. Burt Jones running for lieutenant governor and Rep. Jody Hice running for secretary of state.
Recent polls have shown Kemp with an edge on Perdue, with fewer than 11 weeks remaining before the May 24 primary. Perdue said he thought he could come from behind, saying polls had “missed” his strength, particularly in his initial run for U.S. Senate in 2014.
Party runoffs would be June 21, if needed, followed by the general election on Nov. 8.
Kemp has been pressing Perdue to commit to a series of debates, and Perdue expressed eagerness for the matchup on Wednesday.
“You better bet. I want him to answer to several things,” Perdue said. His entry has dragged Kemp to the right on several issues, with the incumbent voicing support for banning transgender girls from high school sports and finally moving to complete a 2018 campaign promise to remove the need for gun owners to have state issued permits to carry concealed weapons in public.
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