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ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia sits atop former President Donald Trump’s GOP revenge list.
But after being targeted by the former president for nearly a year and a half for failing to overturn Trump’s 2020 election loss to now-President Biden in the key battleground state, Kemp appears to be in a commanding position on the eve of Georgia’s primary.
The latest public opinion surveys, including a Fox News poll, indicate the governor clearing the 50% needed to avoid a runoff against former Sen. David Perdue, who’s backed by Trump.
“I think the party’s already uniting,” Kemp said Monday in a Fox News interview.
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“That’s one reason why he’s [Perdue] been dropping, and we’ve been surging because people have been realizing that I’m the candidate that can beat Stacey Abrams,” the governor argued, refuting repeated arguments from the former president and Perdue that Trump voters won’t back the governor in November’s general election against Abrams, the Democratic Party rising star and a nationally-known voting rights advocate who’s making her second straight bid for Georgia governor.
He may be down by double digits in the polls, but Perdue remains optimistic, telling Fox News that Kemp’s “definitely vulnerable.”
“Here’s a sitting, incumbent, Republican governor struggling to get to 50%,” Perdue emphasized. “That validates everything I said in December when I got in here.”
Four years ago, with the support of Trump, Kemp narrowly defeated Abrams. But Kemp earned Trump’s ire starting in late 2020, after he certified now-President Biden’s razor-thin victory in Georgia in the presidential election, following two recounts of the vote.
Trump, who had unsuccessfully urged the governor and other top Republican officials in the state to overturn the results, returned to Georgia last autumn and again in late March to campaign against Kemp.
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And Perdue has made Kemp’s actions in the 2020 election a leading theme of his campaign, as he’s supported Trump’s constant attempts to re-litigate his election loss. He’s charged numerous times that Kemp “sold us out.”
“The reason I got in here is he’s divided this state. He allowed voter fraud to happen. He denied it happened. He’s covering it up. And now he’s suppressing evidence. And people know that,” Perdue reiterated in his Fox News interview.
And he once again argued that “I’m the only candidate that can bring together the Republican Party to beat Stacey Abrams.”
But Georgia-based conservative talk show host and nationally known political blogger Erick Erickson said that most Georgia Republicans, while still angry about 2020, “have absolutely moved on… they’re ready to move forward.”
Kemp discounts his large lead in the polls and says, “I’m running like we’re 10 points down….We’ve been all over this state reminding people do not believe any polls. The only thing that matters is on election day.”
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But pointing to what’s been described as a “record turnout” in early voting, Kemp argued “I think that benefits us and we’re going to keep working hard.”
Trump, 16 months removed from the White House, remains the most popular and influential voice in the Republican Party as he continues to make dozens of endorsements up and down the ballot in this year’s primaries and repeatedly flirts with another presidential run in 2024. But his immense sway within the GOP hasn’t been able to boost Perdue against a popular politician with the power of incumbency.
“Incumbency matters greatly,” Erickson told Fox News.
In Georgia, Kemp has made the most of the power of incumbency, spending the past six weeks showcasing his numerous victories and achievements in the recently concluded legislative session. On Friday, as Perdue was in Savannah with 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to showcase her endorsement of his campaign, Kemp as a few miles away, announcing the launch of the largest EV battery facility in the nation, in a deal with Hyundai.
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Kemp says he’s benefited from the bruising primary battle.
“We’ve been through tough fights before. I have too. And that’s part of the process and I respect that,” he said. “And it’s been a blessing to me in a lot of ways that I’ve been able to remind people of I’m the one that’s being doing what I’ve said I would do as your governor, and I think that’s one reason why we’re doing so well right now.”
As for Trump, Kemp stressed, “He’s mad at me. I’m not mad at him. So that’s something I can’t control.”
Kemp not only enjoys a commanding lead in the polls, he’s also greatly outraised Perdue. And while Kemp’s commercials still blanket Georgia airwaves on the eve of the primary, Perdue’s gone dark on TV.
“What we did early is we put a lot of money into TV,” Perdue noted.
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And highlighting that you can’t out-compete an incumbent governor on TV, Perdue emphasized, “What we did is focus our money early to get early voting out and that proved to be a very good decision. I’m a business guy. You try to get as good a return on your investment as you can. What we’re going right now is we’re closing the door and making sure we get all those votes out.”
The last night of the primary campaign will be a battle of the surrogates.
Kemp will be joined by former Vice President Mike Pence at a rally at the Cobb County airport, northwest of Atlanta. And Perdue will be joined by Trump on a tele-rally.
“It’s a lot cheaper and you reach a lot more people. We’re going to reach over 100,000 people tonight in this tele-rally,” Perdue said.
Trump last year repeatedly urged Perdue to challenge Kemp, and he backed the former senator the day after Perdue declared his candidacy in December. Trump’s starred in Perdue’s TV ads and traveled to Georgia in late March to headline a rally with Perdue.
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Pointing to a recent media report, Perdue said, “Donald Trump was accused last week of giving up on this campaign. That is far from the truth.”
But facing a massive deficit, even Trump’s help may not be enough to keep Kemp under 50%.