Perdue hugs Trump as he runs proper in Georgia GOP main

RINGGOLD, Ga. (AP) — Speaking recently to voters in a part of Northwest Georgia where Donald Trump is still hugely popular, David Perdue cited his belief in the lie that the 2020 and 2021 elections belonged to the former president and stolen from himself .

“First, it was stolen,” Perdue said. “The facts are coming out”

When the rally was over, Perdue visited the storefront of a group that similarly campaigns against election fraud. Perdue posted a photo on his Facebook page of himself beaming as the group’s co-founder speaks under a banner that proclaims, “Legal voting requires the rule of law.”

The emphasis on false election claims is a reminder of how far to the right Perdue has lurched ahead of next month’s primary against incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp. He has gone from an enterprising conservative who won a US Senate seat in 2014 by focusing on federal spending to a hardliner who associates with conspiracy theorists.

That fits with the broader shifts in the Republican Party under Trump. But some in the GOP warn that fixation on past elections will do little to win general elections in Georgia, where moderate voters are crucial.

“I think David Perdue had broad appeal in 2014,” said Eric Tanenblatt, former chief of staff to former Republican Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and former fundraiser for David Perdue, who is helping Kemp in the primary. “I think he was a lot more approachable because he was talking about issues that were a lot more appealing to the broader constituency.”

Perdue, who was personally courted by Trump to run in retaliation for Kemp not going along with election lies, has fallen behind in the gubernatorial race. But as the May 24 primary election neared, the former Reebok and Dollar General chief executive maintained that he hadn’t changed.

“Even in the Senate, I was an outsider,” Perdue said in Ringgold. “I was never part of the good ol’ boys club up there, trust me.”

Still, Perdue focuses most sharply on claims that the 2020 Georgia presidential election and the 2021 Senate runoff, in which Perdue lost to Democrat Jon Ossoff, were fraudulently won by the Democrats. No credible evidence has surfaced to support Perdue and Trump’s claims of mass voter fraud. Federal and state election officials and Trump’s own attorney general said the election was fair, and the former president’s allegations were also firmly dismissed by courts, including Trump-appointed judges.

During the speech, he promoted his lawsuit aimed at unsealing physical ballots for inspection in Fulton County, Atlanta, alleging without evidence that bribes were taken by poll officials and people were paid to illegally collect and deliver ballots.

“Who paid you to deliver those harvested ballots?” Perdue asked, implying that that was an issue that would settle his lawsuit.

Perdue channeled some of the same business outsider themes in 2014 that Trump capitalized on so powerfully two years later. But back then he was more subtle, introducing himself to voters as a “different kind of person” most concerned with federal spending reform.

Perdue was not widely regarded as the most conservative choice in 2014. After winning the primary, he defeated Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn, whom years later he still considered a friend, a nod to a bipartisanship no longer fashionable among hardcore partisans.

While Perdue was considered a strong conservative in the Senate, there were times when he could reach across the aisle. He tried to curb school shootings by promoting better campus safety practices. Perdue offended some conservatives by voting for an additional $900 billion in COVID-19 aid in December 2020 while in a runoff with Ossoff.

Perdue was never afraid to play on the far right. In 2016, he asked an evangelical Christian audience to pray for President Barack Obama, quoting a psalm that called for vengeance on God’s enemies: “Let his days be few, and let another have his office.” Perdue denied that, in fact to have harmed President.

Today, Perdue blames inflation, high gas prices, immigration and American deaths in Afghanistan for Kemp’s failure to stop the Democrats from winning in Georgia. He warns that only he can get Trump voters to the ballot box to defeat Democrat Stacey Abrams. And he says that without Republican control in Georgia, a Republican will lose by 2024.

“You can’t win the presidency, a Republican can’t win without Georgia,” Perdue said. “And if Stacey Abrams wins that governor’s job, no Republican is going to win that state for president. Just trust me.”

After speaking with the Catoosa County Republicans, Perdue and his wife drove the 3 miles to a VoterGA office sandwiched between a discount store and a Dollar Tree. VoterGA has protested Georgia’s voting system for years, including a failed lawsuit to ditch a previous generation of electronic voting machines. Garland Favorito, co-founder of VoterGA, is best known for Trump’s relentless focus on fraud.

Favorito has also questioned the official version of the September 11, 2001 attacks and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He alleges that Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrongly covered up the 1993 death of Vince Foster, an attorney for then-President Bill Clinton.

Perdue’s embrace of VoterGA could cause trouble in a general election in tightly divided Georgia, but many primary voters appreciate his stance. Bonnie Evans, a Fort Oglethorpe retiree, said he liked Perdue’s promise to strengthen state police and crack down on immigrants illegally in the country.

“I’m 100 percent with him,” Evans said. “I was 80% in favor of him coming in. I think he has common sense. He is not a career politician.”

Perdue also supports other proposals that divide Republicans. Perdue and Trump want Atlanta’s affluent, majority-white Buckhead neighborhood to get a secession vote from the poorer rest of Atlanta, Blacker. Those in favor of divorce claim that Atlanta will never be able to reduce violent crime, but got nowhere in the state legislature this year amid stiff resistance from business groups.

The candidate also bolsters opponents of a $5 billion electric truck plant that will employ 7,500 people and has been announced by Rivian Automotive of Irvine, Calif., east of Atlanta. Local residents are knocking on the factory for ruining their rural quality of life and on the state for not consulting them. Perdue blames “RINO Brian Kemp” in an ad for a “secret backroom deal” for a “plan to give away hundreds of millions of tax dollars” to a company owned by “liberal billionaire George Soros.”

These claims overstate Soros’ role. He bought $2 billion worth of stock around the same time Rivian chose Georgia, but Soros owns just 2% of Rivian and there’s no evidence he had any impact on the announcement. The deal is secret, but no more secretive than other incentive deals Georgia is doling out.

The Anti-Defamation League has said misinformation about Soros is a cornerstone of anti-Semitic activity.

The attacks on Rivian show Perdue’s alienation from some segments of the business world. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce, which has supported Perdue in 2020 and Kemp this year, said in February that politicians who criticize Rivian are “counterproductive and detrimental to the long-term economic prosperity of our communities.”

Polls show Perdue is trailing behind Kemp and the challenger has raised less money so far, but he told the group in Ringgold, part of a Republican-dominated region of northern Georgia, is key to Perdue’s hopes he could win.

“It’s right here in our hands,” Perdue said. “We’ll have the numbers if we all vote.”


Associated Press writer Will Weissert in Washington contributed to this report.

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