Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Tuesday defeated former Sen. David Perdue in the state's Republican primary election for governor, handing former President Donald Trump his biggest electoral setback since his own defeat two years ago.
Trump had vowed revenge on Kemp, who refused to overturn President Joe Biden's 2020 Georgia win, the first by a Democratic nominee since 1992.
Still smarting from the loss, Trump has done everything in his power to kick Kemp out of office. Not only did he recruit, promote, and clear the primary field for Perdue, but Trump also recorded television ads against Kemp and gave $2.6 million to groups helping Perdue — the most the former president has ever invested in another politician. Members of the "MAGA-verse" have also kept up their verbal attacks on Kemp, calling him unpatriotic and blaming him for everything from inflation to the war in Ukraine.
GEORGIA'S DAVID PERDUE SET TO BE THE BIGGEST TRUMP ENDORSEMENT FACE-PLANT TO DATE
Early returns showed Kemp winning a healthy majority, and Perdue conceded about 90 minutes after polls closed at 7 p.m. EDT.
"It's a great night to be a Georgian," Kemp said from his victory party.
At his watch party, Perdue told supporters he had called and congratulated Kemp.
BREAKING: David Perdue has conceded the Georgia governor’s race to @BrianKempGA. “I just called the governor and I congratulated him.” #gapol pic.twitter.com/LOdgU61ZLW— Patricia Murphy (@MurphyAJC) May 25, 2022
He added that he would support Kemp in his general election matchup against Democratic rival Stacey Abrams.
"I am fully supporting Brian Kemp,” he told a small group of supporters gathered at his watch party. “Tomorrow morning, you are going to hear me going to work ... to make damn sure Stacey Abrams is not the next governor of Georgia.”
The Republican Governors Association called Kemp a "results-driven leader who has always put Georgia first" and said in a statement it "will be there to ensure Governor Kemp is re-elected this Fall."
Co-chairmen Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona and Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska called Abrams a candidate "who believes that only she knows what's best." They added that "voters rejected her self-promoting antics and out-of-touch agenda four years ago and will do so again."
Perdue's Tuesday night defeat has exposed the limits of Trump's sway, especially against establishment Republicans.
Kemp has campaigned on a number of conservative policy wins he's racked up during his first term in office and the 2022 legislative session, including teacher and state employee raises, permitless firearm carry legislation, and tougher restrictions on election rules and abortion. Perdue has focused his campaign almost entirely on pushing Trump's debunked election fraud theories.
Perdue, a wealthy former business executive, proved to be a political wunderkind in his 2014 Senate race, the first time he pursued elected office. Perdue won the Republican nomination by beating three sitting House members and claimed the seat that November over the daughter of former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn, whose last name had brought widespread recognition in the state.
But Perdue lost his reelection bid to now-Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff in a 2021 runoff race and has struggled to find footing among Georgia voters in the GOP gubernatorial primary Trump pushed him to run in.
Perdue argued early on in his campaign that Kemp alienated Trump's base and that they would not show up to vote for him in a November matchup against Abrams. Perdue's near-constant drumbeat of election fraud claims seemed to test voters' patience.
Augusta native Sandra Jacobs told the Washington Examiner she was tired of him rehashing the 2020 election.
"It's time to move on," Jacobs said. "The election was in 2020. We can't keep having this fight. It's dividing the party, and it's not doing David Perdue any favors."
Kemp has not only maintained a lead over Perdue for much of the race but in the last two months widened it. A Fox News poll published Wednesday showed that Kemp leads Perdue by 32 points. Sixty percent of the state's GOP primary voters said they preferred the sitting governor, compared with 28% who supported Perdue. In March, 50% of voters said they'd vote to keep Kemp in office, while 39% picked Perdue. The newest Fox poll was conducted May 12-16 and had a 3-point margin of error.
"In this race in particular, Trump doesn't seem to have the juice to oust a popular incumbent," Republican pollster Daron Shaw said.
Despite investing heavily in Perdue, Trump also sought to avoid blame for Perdue's political fall, claiming in an April interview with the New York Times that the media's focus "should be on the endorsements — not the David Perdue one."
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Still, Trump insisted on his Truth Social messaging platform on Friday that he is "with David all the way because Brian Kemp was the WORST governor in the Country on Election Integrity!"
In the days leading up to the primary, a slate of high-profile Republicans stumped for Kemp, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and most notably former Vice President Mike Pence, in what is considered his most aggressive political move against Trump yet.