By Jason Lange and David Morgan
WASHINGTON -Former U.S. Senator David Perdue launched a bid for Georgia governor on Monday, seeking to unseat fellow Republican Brian Kemp and deepening an intraparty rift driven by former President Donald Trump ahead of two critical 2022 elections in the state.
Trump quickly endorsed Perdue’s candidacy against Kemp, a target of the former president’s ire since the governor refused to help overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in the Southern state that contributed to the Democrat winning the presidency.
Whichever Republican wins the party’s nomination will likely face voting rights activist Stacey Abrams https://www.reuters.com/world/us/stacey-abrams-announces-run-governor-state-georgia-again-2021-12-01, a Democrat who said last week she would make a second run for governor in the election battleground state.
“I’m running for governor to make sure Stacey Abrams is never the governor of Georgia,” Perdue said in a 2-1/2-minute video that labeled Kemp as incapable of defeating Abrams, despite his narrow victory over her in 2018.
“Look, I like Brian. This isn’t personal. It’s simple. He has failed all of us and cannot win in November,” Perdue said.
Trump’s false claims about election fraud after Biden won Georgia by a close margin have been blamed for dividing state Republicans before a pair of U.S. Senate runoffs last January that handed Democrats their current Senate majority.
Perdue, a 71-year-old businessman, narrowly lost his Senate seat to Democrat Jon Ossoff in one of the runoffs.
There was no immediate response from Kemp. Ahead of Monday’s announcement, a Kemp campaign spokesman blasted Perdue as “the man who lost Republicans the United States Senate.”
But Perdue blamed Republican Party divisions on Kemp and Republican state Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who both refused to block the state’s presidential election results.
Multiple recounts and investigations upheld the state’s results, despite the baseless allegations of fraud by Trump and some other Republicans.
“To fight back, we simply have to be united,” said Perdue, saying that Kemp “caved” to Abrams on the 2020 election.
“Think about how different it would be today, if Kemp had fought Abrams first instead of fighting Trump,” he said.
Trump predicted last week that his own supporters would not vote for Kemp “after what he did” with the election.
In his statement on Monday, he echoed Perdue’s argument that Kemp cannot beat Abrams. “He can’t win because the [Trump] base — which is enormous — will never vote for him,” Trump said.
Georgia will also be home to a battle over the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Raphael Warnock, who faces a possible 2022 matchup against Republican Herschel Walker, a retired NFL star who has Trump’s backing.
(Reporting by Jason Lange and David Morgan; Editing by Grant McCool and Peter Cooney)