Last December, when Donald Trump talked former U.S. senator David Perdue into challenging his bitter enemy, Georgia governor Brian Kemp, in the state’s May 24 Republican primary, it initially looked like a political coup for the ex-president. Perdue had high name ID, demonstrated fundraising chops, and a persuasive argument that only he could heal divisions among Georgia Republicans over Trump’s efforts to reverse his 2020 election loss. Reuniting Republicans was a crucial task, as the winner of the gubernatorial primary would likely face Democratic star Stacey Abrams in the general election.
Now, days ahead of Tuesday’s primary, Perdue is limping to the finish line in such poor shape that Trump is reportedly writing him off, as NBC News reports:
Even the man who recruited Perdue to run against Kemp — former President Donald Trump — seems to have given his campaign up for dead, said three Republicans who have spoken to Trump. They say Trump has groused about what he believes is a lackluster campaign effort from Perdue.
Trump isn’t planning to make any more personal appearances in Georgia in Perdue’s behalf, having sunk enough of his own political capital in a race that looks like a lost cause, said a fourth source, a person close to the former president.
Trump has denied these reports, insisting on Truth Social, “I am with David all the way because Brian Kemp was the WORST Governor in the Country on Election Integrity!” But any pessimism the former president is privately expressing seems rational. It’s looking so bad for Perdue that the once-formidable senator is trying to lower expectations himself:
Perdue is understandably upset by a new Fox News poll showing him trailing Kemp 60-28. Whatever you think of that particular survey, it confirms a pro-Kemp trend that has been steadily building for months, reinforced by a big financial advantage. The incumbent has convinced an awful lot of MAGA voters that his disagreements with the ex-president over the 2020 election are less important than his solidly right-wing record, his adroit manipulation of gubernatorial powers (he recently suspended collection of state gasoline taxes, a crowd-pleasing move if ever there was one), and the nasty, ruthless streak he showed in edging out Abrams in 2018.
The governor’s race isn’t the only potential source of bad news for Trump in Georgia on Tuesday. He endorsed ten candidates in the primary up and down the ballot in an attempted show of force. But he probably intervened in the primaries for attorney general and for insurance commissioner too late for his little-known candidates to topple incumbents. And his endorsement of party-switching former Democrat Vernon Jones in the Tenth Congressional District is looking iffy. Jones is struggling to make a runoff against front-runner Mike Collins, a trucking executive who drives a big rig around the campaign trail emblazoned with the legend: “TRUMP AGENDA.”
Aside from Perdue’s near-certain loss, the biggest blow to the 45th president’s ego and perceived power could come in the secretary of State primary. Incumbent Brad Raffensperger, who, if possible, exceeds Kemp as a target of Trump’s ire, is running a strong race for renomination. Raffensperger certified Biden’s 2020 Georgia win, and when Trump attacked him for blocking his efforts to reverse the results, he released a tape of the then-president asking him to “find” enough votes to flip Georgia. This move exposed Trump to possible criminal prosecution in Atlanta. Unlike Kemp, who has largely ignored all the attacks from Mar-a-Lago, Raffensperger has been loud and proud about his defiance of demands to steal the election for Trump. The early assumption was that once Trump recruited a sitting congressman, Jody Hice, to take down the secretary of State, he’d fall hard. But Raffensperger has shrewdly used his personal wealth to run ads depicting himself as a champion of Georgia’s controversial new election law and as the archenemy of Stacy Abrams. Hice, meanwhile, has struggled with fundraising and seems to be saving his dough for an August runoff (a calculated risk based on two other minor candidates being in the primary field). If Raffensperger wins on May 24, Trump and Hice will have no one but themselves to blame.
Even if everything else goes south in Georgia on May 24 for Trump, his silver lining will be his longtime personal friend, the football legend Herschel Walker, who is expected to win the U.S. Senate GOP primary handily without a runoff. One primary opponent, longtime Agriculture commissioner Gary Black, has tried to gain traction with harsh attacks on Walker’s background (including incidents of alleged domestic abuse related to Walker’s admitted history of mental illness). All Walker’s Republican rivals have accomplished in the race is to inadvertently dig up some dirt for Walker’s general-election opponent, Senator Raphael Warnock. The incumbent has been quietly putting together a record-setting stash of contributions for what could be an epic general-election battle between two celebrity politicians.
Warnock and Abrams have no primary opposition. All the action in the Republican primaries has led to strong early voting (most of it in person), some of it provided by Democrats (an estimated 7 percent of GOP turnout) who in this open-primary state want to vote against Trump’s candidates or help pick a general-election loser. But there’s also a lot of optimism among Republicans that the midterm election dynamics can help them reverse their shocking 2020 losses in the recently reliable red state. One factor heading toward the general election will be whether Trump can overcome his pique over Perdue’s (and possibly Hice’s) impending defeat and join the party fight against Warnock and Abrams. In Georgia, the former president’s self-absorption was widely blamed for the losses by Perdue and his fellow incumbent, Kelly Loeffler, in the January 5, 2021, general-election runoff that gave Democrats control of the U.S. Senate. Democrats hope and Republicans fear an angry former president could sabotage his party again.
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