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Caught off guard before his campaign begins, Perdue launches primary bid

By Tom Baxter

The last thing he wanted to do, former Sen. David Perdue told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week, was run a campaign. Yet here he is.

Rumors that he would announce a bid for governor have swirled for about a month, but Perdue admitted in the interview that Stacey Abrams dictated the timing of his entry in the race with her announcement days before.

Losing no time since then, he has jumped in the middle of one sticky issue, the Buckhead City movement, latched on to another, eliminating state income taxes, and turned up the burner on the stickiest issue of all, last year’s election.

There’s little way for a Republican to take sides in the Buckhead City debate without offending another Republican. One glance at the organizing committee for the new group opposing Buckhead separating from Atlanta should be proof enough of that. There is a certain, shall we say, affinity between Donald Trump’s Georgia campaign and the cityhood movement, but Perdue should have those people on his email list already.

There are entire think tanks devoted to articulating the arguments for and against eliminating income taxes. What’s notable about Perdue’s embrace of the idea is that it already was a signature issue for Sen. Butch Miller in his campaign for lieutenant governor. Miller also has strong ties to the Trump campaign. Perdue approached the issue as a big picture kind of guy.

“I’m laying out the high ground here,” he said last week, which means the legislature and state bean counters would be left to work out the messy details of a $14 billion hole in the state budget.

Perdue capped off his hurried first campaign week by joining a lawsuit brought by Grace Lennon, a Fulton County resident, against outgoing Fulton County elections director Richard Barron, the county elections board and county commission. It seeks an examination of what by now must be one of the most thoroughly examined batches of votes in Georgia history, the county’s absentee votes from the 2020 presidential election.

“Look, I’m not trying to re-litigate the 2020 election, but what I am trying to do is find the people who broke the law and bring them to justice,” Perdue said in an interview with the north Georgia news site Fetch Your News. In a statement released by his lawyers, Perdue said he brought the suit “to shine light on what I know were serious violations of Georgia law.”

Perhaps what Perdue meant, when he said he wasn’t re-litigating what it looks like he’s re-litigating, is that he’s no longer trying to overturn the election results, but just to bring the righteous arm of Justice down on those who he knows broke the law.

House Speaker David Ralston, in an interview with GPB’s Rahul Bali, had a dire warning for his party about where this could lead next year.

“As someone who has been a Republican all of his life, if this election in 2022 becomes a referendum or a re-litigation of 2020, the Republican Party in Georgia is going to suffer a bloodbath. And you can put that down,” Ralston said.

Gov. Brian Kemp, meanwhile, was not taken off-guard in any visible way when Abrams announced — or when Perdue announced, for that matter — and hasn’t taken sides on Buckhead or anything else that might cost him Republican votes. Nor has he shown the least appetite for revisiting last year’s election.

In a Fox 5 Atlanta/Insider Advantage poll, Kemp had a 41-22 percent lead over Perdue which shrank to a 34-34 tie when the same voters were reminded that Trump planned to endorse Perdue. This might not seem very encouraging for Kemp, knowing that Trump is sure to target him throughout the campaign.

But the fact that a substantial number of Trump-leaning Republicans had to be reminded about Perdue’s ties with the former president, along with Kemp’s advantage in the straight-up question, should be welcome news to the Kemp camp. As should the political instincts shown by his opponent so far.

The Democratic strategist James Carville once observed that businessman candidates were like bananas: the longer they stayed on the shelf, the worse they look. Perdue has served a term in the U.S. Senate in addition to his business career, but this long election campaign will test his shelf life.

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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1 Comment

  1. Noel in Atlanta December 14, 2021 8:47 pm

    Fantastic analysis – really enjoyed this piece.Report


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