ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp celebrated an easy victory over Trump-backed GOP primary challenger David Perdue on Tuesday night at the College Football Hall of Fame, taking the stage as his focus turns to Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams, who refused to concede defeat when the two matched up four years ago.
“Tonight, because of your support, Georgia Republicans went to the ballot box and overwhelmingly endorsed four more years of our vision for this great state,” Kemp said, prompting chants of "Four more years!" from a fired-up crowd of supporters. Playing to the venue, he later said it was time to go 2-0 against Abrams.
While former President Donald Trump endorsed Perdue, the former senator, nearly the entire Republican establishment turned out for Kemp. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie turned out for the embattled Peach State incumbent, as did former Vice President Mike Pence in a notable break from Trump. The Republican Governors Association backed Kemp too and issued a statement of support after the race was called.
"As we were in the primary, the RGA is all-in and we will be there to ensure Governor Kemp is re-elected this Fall," reads a joint statement from Ricketts and Ducey.
Tuesday's result came as no surprise to prognosticators, and many Georgia politicos saw it as deserved.
“Kemp ran a good race based on a good record,” said former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), the chairman of Liberty Guard. “Perdue never articulated for the voters a good reason why he’s running against a strong, popular, conservative incumbent. I think voters saw that.”
Kemp's prowess became apparent early in the evening as he posted a 72% to 22% lead less than an hour after polls closed, scoring more than 57,000 votes to just 18,000 for the Trump-backed challenger. Vote totals changed throughout the evening, but Kemp's winning ratio did not.
The College Football Hall of Fame was packed out for the event, overflowing with elected officials and Peach State movers and shakers sipping drinks on a 45-yard indoor football field complete with full-sized goal posts. Turnout was big in the press pen too, located behind the goal posts and overflowing with local and national reporters sharing the Trump rebuttal.
Across town, it was an underwhelming end for Perdue, who saw flagging support and underwhelming donations after being tapped to challenge Kemp because Trump blamed the governor for his 2020 loss in Georgia. Perdue trailed Kemp by as much as 26 points in polls ahead of the primary and was often absent from the campaign trail in the final weeks. Ironically, Trump may be the reason Perdue isn't a senator today, owing to his stolen election rage even as Perdue battled in a runoff against then-Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff.
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In any case, Perdue conceded the race at 8:15 p.m., calling Kemp to congratulate him on the victory.
Conservative radio host and Georgia native Erick Erickson warmed up the crowd ahead of Kemp's appearance, telling attendees the only question was the size of Kemp's victory.
“We all knew the outcome — and it’s big," he said before taking a jab at Abrams. “Congratulations to Stacey Abrams for getting the last win of her political career tonight in the Democratic primary."
Kemp's attention now turns to completing that process. After ousting Trump's hand-picked selection to punish him for the 2020 election, Kemp now faces another election truther in Abrams, who never conceded her 2018 defeat.
The challenger drew the wrong kind of press in recent days for calling Georgia "the worst state in the country to live," though she immediately tried to contextualize the statement. Nonetheless, Kemp faces a formidable opponent in Abrams, who has attracted a national following and big donation dollars, even drawing talk of being President Joe Biden's running mate two years ago.
“I expect Stacey Abrams to try and walk back her recent comments that Georgia is the worst state in the union — that will be difficult for her, but she’ll try,” said Barr. “I suspect she’ll focus on the large metro areas where more Democratic votes have come from during the last several cycles. But Kemp will blanket the state and go to the real grassroots.”
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But Kemp told supporters Tuesday night he's ready, like always, for the challenge. He lampooned Abrams's COVID-19 policies as a plan to "lock hard-working Georgians in their basement" and keep children in front of screens, drawing a sea of boos from his supporters, before warning that her campaign is only a warmup to seeking higher office.
“Unfortunately for Abrams, the people of our state won’t be used as a stepping stone to the White House,” Kemp said. “This is my belief — that together, we will make sure Stacey’s road to Pennsylvania Avenue stops right here in the Peach State.”