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Trump ally Perdue seeks to unseat Georgia's Republican governor

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Since the 2020 presidential election, former President Donald Trump has tried to purge the GOP of candidates who didn't support his lie about winning the election. It is happening now in the state of Georgia. Former U.S. Senator David Perdue is expected to announce today that he is running for governor. He's got Trump's support. Will it be enough to unseat the current Republican governor of Georgia?

Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler is with us now to talk through the odds. Hey, Stephen.

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So Senator - former Senator Perdue is going to take on the incumbent, Governor Brian Kemp. I mean, this is all pretty rare. Why exactly is Perdue getting into this race right now?

FOWLER: Well, Rachel, the simplest answer is Trump asked him to. After losing a January runoff for his reelection to U.S. Senate to Jon Ossoff, some speculated Perdue would switch to challenge Raphael Warnock for the other Senate seat that's going to be on the ballot next year. Now, Perdue declined to do that, but he's been keeping a presence around the state, speaking at other candidates' launch events and more recently doing some interviews suggesting he could unify a party divided over Trump's influence and that more could be done about so-called election integrity in Georgia.

And an early peek at his campaign website says that he is a bold conservative to unite Georgia and stop Stacey Abrams. At a Trump rally in September in Perry, near Perdue's hometown, the former president asked if Perdue would run for governor and also attacked Governor Brian Kemp, saying that Abrams would be a better governor than Kemp would be.

MARTIN: Stacey Abrams, of course, big name in Georgia politics, also national - has a national profile. She announced that she is going to run again. How is Governor Kemp responding to both of these challengers now?

FOWLER: Well, Abrams is running again after coming about 55,000 votes short in 2018. The two were kind of archrivals and represent two different sides in an ongoing fight over voting rights. Kemp says he's looking forward to beating her again, and Abrams is a powerfully divisive figure that could unite Republicans against her in the election.

But Kemp now faces an attack on his right flank from a former ally. David Perdue and his cousin Sonny, the former U.S. agriculture secretary under Trump, were the ones that convinced Trump to endorse Kemp back in 2018. Now, Governor Kemp said recently Perdue told him at one point he wouldn't run against him, but here we are. It's setting up to be a really scorched-earth primary that's testing an already fractured GOP.

MARTIN: Right. So just a reminder, Georgia ended up in Joe Biden's column in the 2020 election, and two Democrats, as we've said, won Senate seats, including the seat that was held by David Perdue. Are Republicans worried at all that this kind of primary fight could open the door for more Democratic victories?

FOWLER: Absolutely, Rachel. Brian Kemp is a pretty conservative governor, but he's likely going to have to go farther to the right to defeat Perdue in a primary. Embracing those policies could alienate more moderate voters in a state that's been decided by such narrow margins in the last two big elections.

There's also a faction of pro-Trump conservative voters that didn't show up for the runoffs in January that helped contribute to Perdue and fellow Republican Kelly Loeffler losing. Some of that was because of misinformation, false claims of fraud that Trump and others helped push about the election. Many of these voters also think Kemp didn't do enough to overturn the election and could stay home, too. So in a race where every vote really counts, that could end up being a difference-maker.

MARTIN: Right. And Trump has endorsed GOP primary challengers in other states, too. He could be considering a 2024 presidential run himself. How could what's happening in Georgia affect him?

FOWLER: Well, simply, if Trump's candidates lose to Democrats, it could signal his brand of politics might not have the same luster.

MARTIN: Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler, thanks as always.

FOWLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: December 6, 2021 at 12:00 AM EST
A headline on an earlier version of this file misspelled David Perdue's last name as Purdue.