Gov. Brian Kemp did on Tuesday night what just months ago some might have thought impossible: win the Republican primary outright against Trump-backed challenger David Perdue.
Perdue conceded at about 8:30 p.m., when results showed Kemp beating him by about a 3-to-1 margin.
Kemp’s win in the state’s primary sets an example for races across the country that an endorsement by the former president may not hold as much weight when voters cast their ballots.
The Republican incumbent campaigned on a record he’s carefully crafted during his first term in office where he faced large obstacles including navigating the pandemic and responding to mass social unrest.
Still, the state’s economy remained strong — which he credits to his refusal to shut down businesses as COVID cases surged — and Republican lawmakers passed a flurry of conservative bills to appease their voters, including a new restrictive abortion law and sweeping election changes.
Kemp, a relative political newcomer, was propelled to victory in 2018 with Trump’s support but became a primary target of the former president’s attacks when he rebuked Trump’s efforts to overturn the Peach State 2020 presidential election.
Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, a once-rising Republican star turned one of Trump’s harshest critics, said that Kemp “deserves four more years to run our state.”
“At the end of the day, Brian Kemp is going to win because he’s been a great leader,” Duncan said. “At the beginning of the primary process, it felt like a Trump endorsement was the end-all, be-all for a lot of these even down-ballot candidates. But the reality is what we’ve gotten here today, is that voters are now returning back to their senses and realizing that leadership matters.”
Duncan opted not to run for re-election, but said Kemp’s victory is encouraging for the GOP.
“I think that’s really what we’re looking for is not necessarily if Brian Kemp wins today, but by how much. And I think every, you know, every percentage point he beats David Perdue by is another 100 miles in the right direction for the Republican Party.”
Even in the final hours, Perdue’s campaign was adamant he would remain victorious.
At the Wild Wing Cafe in Dunwoody ahead of a pro-Trump rally Monday, Perdue blasted the media present for reporting that there was no significant fraud found in the Georgia 2020 election and reiterated false claims that voting was riddled with rampant fraud.
The Trump-backed former senator had centered his campaign around the false claims perpetuated by the former president. When asked if he will accept the results of the primary election, he answered: “Depends on if there is fraud or not.”
Perdue underscored the importance of the Peach State in the national political arena and called former President Trump’s endorsement “very important.”
“This is a statewide statewide race for governor but it’s bigger than that,” he said. “This is a national race for the direction of our country.”
But he denied that his bid has deepened the divide within the Republican party on both the state and federal level.
Kemp will face Democrat Stacey Abrams in a rematch of the 2018 governor’s race.
This story comes to Reporter/Atlanta Intown through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.