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Can Perdue hold up well enough to do the Democrats any good?

By Tom Baxter

What should be Stacey Abrams’ biggest worry was on vivid display in Commerce Saturday night, and it wasn’t Donald Trump.

The Democrats’ hopes for success in this year’s elections have been premised on the idea that the Republican Party in Georgia would remain deeply divided over the outcome of the 2020 election. For that to happen, Abrams and other Democrats have to rely on Trump continuing to stir the pot, luring conservative voters away from Gov. Brian Kemp, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, and the rest of the “RINOs, sellouts and losers,” as he called them Saturday night, who he blames for his election loss.

In that sense, the Democrats are depending on Trump every bit as much as David Perdue, Herschel Walker and the other Republicans endorsed by the former president. Even as observers on the scene were tweeting that the crowd at this rally was smaller and quieter than previous Trump rallies in the state, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was sending out a fundraising email stating that Trump was “headlining a HUGE rally” in Georgia.

Despite what both the DSCC and the Trump advance team claimed, photos from the event appear to show a smaller crowd than at previous Georgia Trump appearances. More important, it was an even smaller crowd by the time Trump finished speaking — an hour late on a chilly evening — than it was when he began.

That’s what Abrams and her fellow Democrats really have to worry about. Perdue has failed to catch fire in his crusade against his incumbent primary rival, and his attempts over the past week to tie himself even closer to Trump appear only to be bringing his own weakness as a candidate into sharper relief. He’s likely to slog on through the primary, but that may not hurt Kemp nearly as much as Democrats have hoped. There will still be disgruntled Trump supporters who won’t vote for Kemp in November, but that crowd is getting smaller.

The contrast with U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker is telling. In his six-minute speech, Walker didn’t mention Trump once, directly or indirectly, and he got the lustiest cheers of any of the candidates who spoke during the first part of the rally. Perdue, on the other hand, was all about “President Trump,” “the Man,” “the president,” from the minute he began to speak. Perdue now claims that he, just like “the Man,” was the victim of a stolen election. He’s becoming a diminished version of a diminished Trump.

Granted, ex-football players may be better at pep rallies than former CEOs, but Walker came off as stronger, more confident and independent than Perdue, no matter that he mixed up the letters for critical race theory. Trump later seemed to acknowledge the dynamics between the two candidates when he cited the danger of a Perdue loss being a drag on Walker as a major reason to vote for Perdue.

Twenty minutes into Trump’s speech, which came much later in the evening, he was still talking about the thrice-counted 2020 election and how he’d been sold out, rehashing all the old claims about tainted drop boxes and absentee ballots. By about the 40-minute mark, he had moved on to a more current issue, the Buckhead cityhood movement.

Trump warmly praised cityhood organizer Bill White as an old New York friend, off-handedly referring to him as “your mayor” at one point. He predicted cityhood movements are “going to happen in other communities, too,” and urged his followers to vote for the non-binding ballot question supporting the Buckhead movement which the state GOP has added to the primary ballot.

It was only after this that Trump began calling candidates to the microphone for a second time to pay their brief obeisances to him, and by then it appears the crowd was beginning to thin out.

Trump’s coming back soon to hold a rally in Savannah, where he promised to have more to say about Walker’s opponent, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock. Could that be a sign he’s thinking of shifting his focus to the more promising candidate? His bitterness toward Kemp makes it unlikely Perdue will suffer the same fate as U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks in Alabama, who lost Trump’s endorsement last week. But the way the race has gone for Perdue so far, that may not make much difference.

Featured image via Twitter, taken by Greg Bluestein.

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Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

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