- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2022

KINGSLAND, Ga. — Former Sen. David Perdue, the highest-profile endorsement by former President Donald Trump in this election cycle, is struggling to gain traction in the Republican primary race for Georgia governor, raising questions about Mr. Trump’s influence over voters more than a year after leaving office.

Mr. Perdue, who lost his Senate seat in 2020, has roughly 2½ months to reverse polling. He significantly trails Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, whom he hopes to defeat in a May 24 primary.

A Fox News poll released Tuesday shows Mr. Kemp with an 11-point lead over Mr. Perdue. A Fox5/InsiderAdvantage poll released earlier this month found Mr. Kemp leading Mr. Perdue by 9 percentage points in his bid for a second term.

Mr. Perdue received a ringing endorsement last month from Mr. Trump. The former president is on a mission to defeat Republicans who did not back his effort to overturn the 2020 election results in several swing states won narrowly by Joseph R. Biden.

In a 30-second ad, Mr. Trump called Mr. Perdue “an America First, conservative outsider.”

Mr. Trump turned against Mr. Kemp, a former ally, after the governor refused to help challenge Georgia’s presidential election results, which provided a razor-thin victory to Mr. Biden.

Mr. Trump called Mr. Kemp “a very weak governor” who “let us down.”

Mr. Trump’s endorsement has yet to translate into significant support for Mr. Perdue despite the former president’s enduring popularity with the Republican electorate in Georgia and across the country.

Trump observers and critics view the Republican governor’s race as a measure of the former president’s influence on voters ahead of the November midterm elections as well as 2024, when Mr. Trump may launch another presidential bid.

If Mr. Perdue falls to Mr. Kemp in the primary, Georgia pollster Mike Towery said, Mr. Trump will also be viewed as a loser.

“To what level, I don’t know, but certainly the national media will seize on it as evidence that he’s not able to do what they thought he could do,” Mr. Towery said. “I think that there’s no doubt that will take place. And so, yeah, there will be some damage done to him.”

A survey of Georgia voters released Tuesday by Blueprint Polling found Mr. Trump beating Mr. Biden 50% to 36% in a hypothetical 2024 matchup. Among Georgia Republicans polled, 92% backed Mr. Trump. The state’s critical independent vote favored Mr. Trump over Mr. Biden by 42% to 24%.

The Fox News poll released Tuesday found 57% of Republican primary voters in Georgia strongly favor Mr. Trump and 22% rate their view of the former president as somewhat favorable. Less than 20% of the state’s Republican primary voters view Mr. Trump unfavorably.

Republican Party strategists say Mr. Trump maintains significant influence over Georgia voters and blame Mr. Perdue’s faltering campaign for failing to broadcast Mr. Trump’s support aggressively.

Perdue hasn’t let everybody know that Trump is endorsing him,” Atlanta-based strategist Jay Williams said.

Mr. Williams said Mr. Trump’s impact on the race might be limited because Georgians are familiar with both Mr. Kemp, a relatively popular governor, and Mr. Perdue, who served in the Senate from 2015 to 2021.

Mr. Kemp has campaigned on his success in shunning lockdowns and mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has helped the state’s economy remain healthy. He also has addressed election fraud fears by signing election integrity legislation.

Mr. Trump’s endorsement “might not have as big an impact when both commodities are known,” Mr. Williams said.

Republican Party strategists say Mr. Perdue has time to close the gap in the polls, particularly if he campaigns more aggressively as a Trump favorite.

Donald Trump Jr. campaigned alongside Mr. Perdue in north Georgia on Monday, and the former president will stump for him sometime in the coming weeks. That could give Mr. Perdue a significant boost.

“President Trump has the most powerful endorsement in political history,” Trump spokeswoman Elizabeth Harrington said. “Georgians know Brian Kemp is a RINO who let his state down. David Perdue is the strong choice to take him down, and he has President Trump’s full support.”

Mr. Perdue’s campaign platform calls for eliminating the state income tax, reducing crime and ensuring greater parental rights in public education.

David Perdue is on the road every week, sharing his bold vision and letting voters know that he’s been endorsed by President Trump,” campaign spokeswoman Jenni Sweat said. “Conservatives already know that Brian Kemp sold them out, and once they know about President Trump’s endorsement, Perdue will win the primary and become Georgia’s next governor.”

• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at sferrechio@washingtontimes.com.

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