Dec 15, 2021 - News

Scoop: Perdue rejected GOP appeals to skip governor race

Perdue speaks to reporters

David Perdue addresses reporters during his campaign launch in Dalton. Photo: Emma Hurt/Axios

A majority of Georgia's Republican state senators quietly sent former Sen. David Perdue a letter last month asking him not to run for governor, Axios has learned. Weeks later, Perdue forged ahead and announced his primary challenge to incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp.

Why it matters: Former President Donald Trump's campaign against "disloyal" Republicans has set off GOP worries around the country about the risk of dividing, weakening or radicalizing the party. Nowhere has the dynamic played out more openly so far than Georgia.

  • Perdue is arguing Kemp can't win in November because he lacks the support of Trump and his base.
  • Trump was furious after Kemp declined to take steps to overturn President Joe Biden's 2020 win in the state.

What they're saying: In the letter, 25 of the state Senate's 34 Republicans told Perdue he “made us proud" during his time in the U.S. Senate — but asked him to join them in endorsing Kemp for re-election for the sake of preserving their chances in the November general election.

  • “Our GOP and state must be unified behind our governor with a positive message to keep Georgia conservative and moving forward,” they wrote.
  • Thirty-one state senators had already endorsed Kemp in early September.

The intrigue: There was so much concern about the letter becoming public that the senators refrained from sharing an electronic copy.

  • They circulated the text only in paper form.

The other side: Asked about the letter, Perdue acknowledged he'd received it but said it never affected his decision.

He said that "it was kind of funny that they thought it might.”

  • “This is what career politicians do," he told Axios, pointing to the 2014 Republican Senate primary when his opponent, then-Rep. Jack Kingston, received much of the support of Georgia's political establishment.
  • "They think that endorsements among each other can elbow an outsider out of a race," he said. “People who vote don't care about that. You know who cares about that? Career politicians."
  • "And that's what's so ironic, ludicrous, for 20-something state senators to send a letter like that, thinking that I'm going to be moved one way or the other," he said.

Between the lines: State Sen. John Albers, a signer of the letter, called the career politicians characterization "concerning and wholly inaccurate,” adding, “Most have been in office less than Perdue."

  • "We want to unify our GOP and focus on winning in November 2022," he said.
  • “We hold Sen. Perdue in the highest regard and always will, and wish that he had responded to us in the same manner in which we originally engaged with him," said Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, who also signed.

What's next: Georgia's General Assembly convenes in January, testing whether the primary battle will impact Republicans' ability to pass legislation.


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