Gov. Brian Kemp on Monday struck former Sen. David Perdue fast and hard, foreshadowing a bloody, monthslong primary poised to tear the Georgia Republican Party asunder and elevate Democrats to power in a key battleground state.

Twenty-four hours before Perdue answered former President Donald Trump’s call for a Republican to challenge Kemp and entered the 2022 contest for the GOP nomination for Georgia governor, the incumbent’s campaign painted the ex-senator as a wealthy dilettante and sore loser who cost the party control of the Senate in 2020 and empowered President Joe Biden and Democrats in Washington to saddle Peach State voters with destructive liberal policies.

That was just the start. “There’s a proverbial button to push,” said a Republican operative in Georgia who is advising Kemp, likening the forthcoming attacks on Perdue to a missile strike that has yet to launch. “We will win the primary, whatever it takes.”

Perdue counterpunched immediately, calling Kemp out in his announcement video and moving to take the attacks coming his way from the governor and redirect them toward the incumbent. The governor’s renomination, the former senator warned, would hopelessly divide Georgia Republicans and lead to the election of presumptive Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams.

“Look, I like Brian. This isn’t personal; it’s simple. He’s failed all of us and cannot win in November,” Perdue said. “Instead of protecting our elections, he caved to Abrams and cost us two Senate seats, the Senate majority, and gave Joe Biden free reign. Think about how different it would be today if Kemp had fought Abrams first instead of Trump. Kemp caved before the election, and the country is paying the price today.”


Trump endorsed Kemp in the Republican primary four years ago, his backing crucial to Kemp's nomination and narrow win in the general election over Abrams, who announced her second bid for the governor’s mansion last week. But the former president blames the governor for his loss to Biden in Georgia in 2020 and is angry that Kemp would not assist his efforts to overturn legally certified results that survived multiple recounts.

That made Trump’s endorsement of Perdue over Kemp a fait accompli the minute the former one-term senator, ousted by Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff on Jan. 5 in a runoff election, announced for governor Monday morning. But the battle lines in this contest are not so much pro- or anti-Trump as they are familial — and that is why the primary threatens to be so damaging to Georgia Republicans and such a boon to the Democrats.

Kemp and Perdue were longtime allies. They share financial backers, political advisers, and activist supporters. This primary, which few GOP operatives in Georgia wanted, will force Republicans to choose among competing loyalties as if two romantic interests, making unification after the primary nearly impossible. Some Republicans fear a blue mini-wave in Georgia in an otherwise tough midterm election for Democrats that ends with Abrams in the governor’s mansion and Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock reelected.

For Kemp, the challenge from Perdue is personal as much as it is political. Earlier this year, Perdue and his wife met with the governor and Georgia’s first lady and pledged to support the incumbent in the 2022 GOP primary. With the career businessman ready to reverse course, Kemp essentially called him a liar in comments to the press corps in Atlanta, the state capital.

“I hope he’ll be a man of his word,” the governor said early this month. His remarks were reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Perdue, 71, announced in February he would not challenge Warnock, who defeated appointed Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler in a special election in the second runoff held Jan. 5. But like Trump, only quietly, the former senator seethed at his close loss to Ossoff, believing it was the fault of a rigged system rather than mistakes he made or depressed turnout in the runoff caused by the outgoing president’s unsupported claims the 2020 election was stolen.

Polling conducted earlier in the fall for Republicans monitoring the political atmosphere in Georgia revealed Perdue would be a strong candidate against Kemp, 58, especially with Trump’s endorsement. Kemp allies are acknowledging the primary is going to be “a dogfight” and is likely to end in a photo-finish. “It’s going to be awful,” said one Republican insider supporting the governor. But the Kemp campaign is confident the incumbent will prevail.

Their view of Perdue as a weak challenger with a record ripe for exploiting was revealed in the lengthy statement issued Sunday by Kemp campaign spokesman Cody Hall. In his prepared comments were the seeds of the multifaceted attacks Kemp is planning against Perdue, which include the personal and the political.

“It may be difficult for David Perdue to see this over the gates of his coastal estate, but Joe Biden’s dangerous agenda is hitting hardworking Georgians in the wallet and endangering their livelihoods — and we all have David Perdue to thank for it,” Hall said. “Perdue’s only reason for running is to soothe his own bruised ego, because his campaign for U.S Senate failed to inspire voters at the ballot box — twice,” he added. “Gov. Kemp has a proven track record of fighting the radical left to put hardworking Georgians first, while Perdue is best known for ducking debates, padding his stock portfolio during a pandemic, and losing winnable races.”

Perdue is expected to lean on Trump and the implicit message that Kemp dawdled while Democrats stole the election. Austin Chambers, a Republican operative in Georgia backing Perdue, tweeted Monday the primary pitted Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, both of whom Trump also blames for his loss in the state, against the former president and the former senator. “Will gladly take Kemp/Duncan/Raff against Perdue and Trump,” Chambers said.


“If Brian Kemp hadn’t caved in to Stacy Abrams’ consent decree and fought Abrams as hard as he fights Trump and Perdue, we wouldn’t be in this mess. Just ask President Trump. Perdue is running to unite Republicans and stop Stacey Abrams,” a Perdue campaign spokesman said in a statement.

The former senator is likely to emphasize, as he has in recent local interviews and in Monday's announcement video, that the governor is a divisive figure incapable of unifying Republicans against Abrams and Warnock next fall. Regardless of who emerges as the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee, this feud could leave a cloud over the party and position the Democrats to win Georgia’s Electoral College votes again in 2024.