“Lord have mercy,” Kemp said. “There’s a lot of spaghetti being thrown against the wall.”
It’s an idiom, describing the act of solving a problem through random means – trying a lot of different things to see what sticks. But if recent polls are anything to go off, Perdue’s biggest talking point, his much-heralded Trump endorsement, isn’t sticking with Georgia Republicans. At least not a majority of them.
A recent poll performed by the SPIA Survey Research Center at University of Georgia, led by professor M.V. (Trey) Hood III illustrates this.
The survey of 736 likely Republican voters was split into two camps. One group was told who Trump had endorsed in the race beforehand, the “treatment” group. The other was not given any additional information, the “control” group.
And for the governor’s race, it didn’t make much difference: Only 39.2% of the treatment group chose Perdue over Kemp. He was chosen by 37.2% of the control group. Kemp was chosen by 47.9% of the control group, and 46.2% of the group that was told Trump endorsed Perdue.
The Trump Effect
Former President Donald Trump is attempting to leverage his influence with Georgia Republican voters to bolster the primary election hopes of seven candidates. Leading up the May 24 vote, journalists from the Savannah Morning News, Augusta Chronicle and Athens Banner-Herald will examine the role the former president is playing in key Georgia races.
May 2: The Trump ticket
May 3: U.S. Senate
Today: Georgia governor
Future: Georgia secretary of state
GOP strategist Edward Lindsey says while candidates in less popular races may get a boost from a Trump endorsement, big name candidates with high-profile political careers like Perdue and Kemp, the voters already know who they are, and generally already feel one way or the other about them.
“I think that his influence is greater in races in which people might not already be familiar with the candidates. And so they fall back on someone that they feel like they can trust,” Lindsey said.
‘He’s not Jesus’
For some of the Trump faithful, Perdue isn’t their preferred candidate in the governor’s race.
Chatham County resident Sara Lain-Moneymaker loves Trump. She believes the election in 2020 was stolen, and she’s a member of the newly established Southeast Georgia Republican Alliance, a local group founded on that belief.
She’s voting for Kandiss Taylor who is campaigning on a platform of “Jesus, Guns, and Babies.” She’s polling a distant third beyond Kemp and Perdue.
Her friends have asked her why she isn’t supporting Perdue, Trump’s pick. She says her faith in Trump and her faith in Trump’s candidates are two different things.
“I love President Trump, I respect him. He’s a very wise man, but he doesn’t always get the correct information,” Lain-Moneymaker said. “And he’s not Jesus. I don’t blindly follow anybody but Jesus.”
2018 vs. 2022
The last time there was a governor’s race in Georgia, Kemp was the one bearing Trump’s approval. Trump endorsed Kemp ahead of the governor’s race runoff between him and then-Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, the top vote getter in the primary.
Kemp was already polling ahead of Cagle prior to Trump’s announcement but the then-president’s blessing turned the race into a runaway, with Kemp winning 68% of the vote.
So why did Trump’s endorsement make such a difference in the governor’s race four years ago, but not this year? Georgia House Rep. Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah), points toward Kemp’s record.
“I think what most Republicans are doing is judging the people who they have elected by their results. Brian Kemp has arguably been one of the best governors in this country through this pandemic,” Petrea said.
The power of incumbency
Petrea says in the last four years, Kemp has kept nearly every promise he made during his campaign, even within the setting of a global pandemic.
Georgia’s economy thrived during COVID-19, according to Petrea, a trend which he and other conservative lawmakers accredit to Kemp “keeping the state open.” Georgia was the first state to lift its shelter-in-place order and business restrictions following the initial COVID-19 surge in spring 2020, decisions Trump himself criticized from the Oval Office.
Georgia House Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) has been in the legislature for over two decades. He praised Kemp for his leadership during the pandemic.
“He’s made the right calls at the right time, very difficult calls,” Stephens said. “He’s had a backbone whenever he was being criticized by a whole lot of the country, and in our economy right now, Georgia is showing it.”
Kemp isn’t shy about using his record as a talking point. During three debates in the an eight-day span prior to the start of early voting, the governor used his successes as a defense to Perdue’s criticism as well as a weapon against his opponent.
“David Perdue is attacking my record because he doesn’t have one of his own,” Kemp said.
The power of the ‘outsider’
If Kemp’s fallback message is “Look at my record,” Perdue’s mantra is “Kemp helped Donald Trump lose in 2020.”
When Trump called Kemp for help, asking him to call a special session of the Georgia General Assembly to appoint hand-picked electors to cast Georgia’s Electoral College votes, Kemp refused. Under Georgia law, Kemp lacks the constitutional authority to negate certified election results.
False claims of a “stolen” 2020 election are the cornerstones of Perdue’s campaign. He opened the first gubernatorial debate by saying “the election in 2020 was rigged and stolen.”
University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock says it’s Perdue’s attempt to make the “Trump won the 2020 election” narrative and the Kemp opposition narrative one in the same.
“There have been instances where a Republican wins Georgia by half a million votes for almost 20 years. That’s Trump’s belief. And so he wants to pin it on someone, and it’s Brian Kemp; it’s (Secretary of State) Brad Raffensperger. They didn’t do enough for him.,” Bullock said.
If neither Kemp or Perdue win a majority of the vote on May 24, the race will go to a runoff, scheduled for June 21. Given the polling results, a head-to-head showdown is the best Perdue can hope for, politics experts say..
A runoff would give both candidates more time to campaign, and for Perdue, more chances to turn the tables on his former ally.
Petrea said he doesn’t expect the race to make it to a runoff, despite Perdue’s Trump endorsement and messaging.
“The governor is not a dictator. The governor doesn’t run elections. The governor didn’t fail anymore,” Petrea said. “And I think the polls are pretty clear. Kemp has a double-digit lead over Perdue. He’s gonna win without a runoff. And I think the party is gonna unite behind Brian Kemp in November.”
Will Peebles is the enterprise reporter for Savannah Morning News. He can be reached at email@example.com and @willpeeblessmn on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Trump chose David Perdue for GA governor, but Kemp still leads polls