The two Republicans running for Georgia’s governorship dedicated almost half their debate to arguing about false claims of fraud in the 2020 election, a display of how former President Donald Trump’s lies about his loss continue to grip the GOP.
“Let me be very clear tonight: The election in 2020 was rigged and stolen,” former Georgia Sen. David Perdue said in his opening statement. Perdue, who lost in a runoff election to Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff in January 2021, has Trump’s endorsement.
Perdue is challenging incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp, who pushed through a law rolling back voting rights and giving GOP appointees vast control of elections last year. The winner of the May 23 primary will face Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams in November.
The first 23 minutes of the hour-long debate on Sunday night featured Kemp and Perdue repeatedly yelling and talking over each other, with Perdue focusing almost exclusively on the false allegation that the 2020 election was stolen.
Kemp said Perdue was simply unwilling to accept his own loss. “Weak leaders blame everybody else for their own loss instead of themselves,” he said.
The incumbent repeatedly noted Perdue’s loss to Ossoff, arguing that it shows he would not be able to defeat Abrams in 2022.
“You have a candidate that is going to attack my record, unfortunately, all night tonight, because they didn’t have a record there to beat Jon Ossoff in 2020,” Kemp said.
The arch-conservative Kemp won the 2018 GOP primary and general election for Georgia’s governorship with Trump’s support, but refused to accede to Trump’s demands to call a special session of Georgia’s legislature to overturn the election results in 2020. Since then, Trump has relentlessly attacked Kemp.
Those attacks have not moved the needle much in the primary. Public polling shows Kemp with a healthy lead over Perdue, and he has a significant financial advantage – $12 million cash on hand to Perdue’s $1 million, according to state campaign finance records.