Trump washes hands of Perdue in Georgia as his campaign winds down

Dark on TV. Lagging behind in the polls. Canceled by Republican political insiders nationally and in Georgia.

Former Sen. David Perdue’s once-feisty main challenge to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp appears to be unraveling in the final stretch ahead of Tuesday’s vote.

Even the man who recruited Perdue to run against Kemp — former President Donald Trump — appears to have given up his campaign for death, three Republicans who spoke to Trump said. They say Trump complained about what he believes was a lackluster campaign effort by Perdue.

Trump no longer plans to make personal appearances in Georgia on Perdue’s behalf, having sunk enough of his own political capital in a race that looks like a lost cause, a fourth source, a person close to the former president, said. speaking on condition of anonymity to speak more freely about Perdue’s prospects.

“David either has a bunch of geniuses working for him — because he spent next to no money — or he ran the most flawed campaign in America,” the person said while noting that Perdue still had an outside chance to force a runoff.

It’s a bitter dynamic for Trump, who has made his national endorsements a sign of his influence in the party and part of his implied case to be the GOP presidential nominee in 2024.

Trump crossed paths with Kemp after refusing to help him overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results, which helped cost him his re-election. Now voters there, many of whom have grown tired of Trump’s involvement in the state’s GOP, may reject Perdue, along with other statewide candidates he has endorsed. . One notable exception: former soccer star Herschel Walker, who is on course for a big victory in the Senate primaries on Tuesday and was recruited by Trump.

“At the end of the day, Donald Trump doesn’t care about David Perdue winning. He just cared about Brian Kemp losing,” said Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, a Republican who chose not to run. in the election and incurred the wrath of Trump for defending the state’s 2020 election “And that was a very superficial attempt to try and unseat a perfectly fit conservative governor.”

Perdue’s campaign scheduled $0 in ads for the final week of the campaign, while political action committees supporting him ran about $280,000 in ads, according to data from ad-tracking firm AdImpact. Compare that to Kemp, whose campaign is expected to spend over $1 million on ads during the final campaign stretch. A pro-Kemp PAC sponsored by the Republican Governors Association prepared nearly $700,000 in advertising.

Perdue’s campaign hasn’t aired since late last month, according to this data.

Meanwhile, Kemp leads Perdue 60% to 28% in a Georgia Republican poll conducted for Fox News that was released Wednesday. Kemp’s most recent internal campaign survey suggests similar findings, said two sources who have seen the poll but were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

The sense of Perdue’s implosion was apparent Thursday at Kemp’s two rallies, where he repeatedly checked the name of his likely general election opponent, Stacey Abrams, and did not mention Perdue at all.

Kemp mentioned Tuesday’s primary only once, encouraging Republicans to vote Tuesday.

“It’s hard to see how this race isn’t over,” said Matt Towery, a pollster who surveyed the race.

“David Perdue has no TV commercials and went black two weeks ago, but Kemp is in place,” added Towery, a former adviser to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga . “It’s almost impossible to win a major race when a popular governor bombards you on TV and you’re in the dark.”

Gingrich himself told NBC News that the chances of a runoff increase if the other lesser-known candidates get enough support to keep Kemp below 50%.

“That’s why he spends so much now. This is the election for him,” he said of Kemp.

As Election Day approaches, some allies seek to shield Trump from blame. For all Trump’s popularity in the GOP, even he can’t save a candidate whose performance is so weak, a close Trump ally has said.

Eric Johnson, former GOP leader in the state Senate and adviser to former Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s 2020 campaign, compared the run to the University of Georgia football team that ran up the score on Georgia Tech.

“Unlike Ohio and [Pennsylvania] Senate primaries, we have a holder with a solid balance sheet [who’s] work hard,” Johnson said in an email. “All Perdue has is a cheerleader in Florida. That’s not enough.

Perdue has had some coverage from outside political committees who have spent money on television criticizing Kemp’s record. In total, Perdue and his campaign spent about $6 million on ads — including $400,000 from Trump’s super PAC — while Kemp and the political committees that support him lost at least $10.5 million on air, according to AdImpact.

But Kemp’s spending pace only picked up, and fresh out of a legislative session in which he cut taxes and signed Conservative bills, he also reaped the benefits of the presidency by getting more free media coverage while raising more money.

“It’s incredibly hard to beat a Republican incumbent, especially when, by most measures, the incumbent has done a good job on the economy and [enacting] conservative policies,” said Jay Williams, a Georgia-based GOP strategist. “Even Trump couldn’t work miracles and make Perdue a good candidate with a good message.”

Perdue’s campaign — or his alleged lack of it — has also been called into question in Georgia, where The Atlanta Journal Constitution this week asked “Where in the world is David Perdue” in a report on his hard-to-find events. A spokeswoman for Perdue, Jenni Sweat, disputed the report as “erroneous”.

“Hard to find? You must be kidding,” Sweat said via email, pointing out that NBC News reporters have and will continue to cover her events, which she noted “are publicly posted on our site. Web”.

As of Thursday night, Perdue’s website showed six events scheduled for Friday and Saturday in the final days of the race. One such event, scheduled for Friday, features Perdue unveiling an endorsement from former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as she also seeks to resurrect her political career by running for Congress in her home state. origin.

Two Republicans who spoke with Trump about the Perdue campaign, however, indicated that he thought Perdue needed to do more. The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the internal deliberations, said Trump’s political operation had conveyed its displeasure to the Perdue campaign, which, according to they either apologized or denied there was a problem.

“Donald Trump worked harder to elect David Perdue than David Perdue,” a Trump adviser said, noting that Trump held two rallies for Perdue, spent money on TV for him, paid for digital advertising and sent emails and text messages on his behalf.

Duncan said the end of Perdue’s gubernatorial bid reminded him of Perdue’s efforts at the end of his failed runoff against Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., which defeated him.

“I don’t know if it’s bad advice or lack of confidence,” he said. “I’m not sure what it is. I let him describe it. But you know, we’ve seen the runoff. He did not show up for a debate. He didn’t make many appearances. It was just a low energy race to the finish line. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know you’re meant to cross the finish line. And certainly, it’s exciting to see Brian Kemp do just that.

Trump also helped persuade another primary candidate, former state Rep. Vernon Jones, to quit the contest and run for Georgia’s 10th congressional district instead to give Perdue a chance. easier to beat Kemp in a head-to-head race without the threat of a runoff.

In response to Jones’ entry into the gubernatorial race, Republican candidate Patrick Witt left the congressional race to challenge Insurance Commissioner John F. King, an ally of Kemp. Trump then endorsed Witt.

Trump also endorsed a little-known challenger to the state’s attorney general, Chris Carr, another Kemp ally who refused to help overturn the 2020 election. And Trump backed U.S. Representative Jody Hice in a bid to ousting Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who also refused to help overturn the 2020 election and said the state’s election was secure.

Raffensperger’s office secretly recorded Trump trying to persuade Raffensperger to “find” votes to make him the winner of the race – a request that is now part of a local criminal investigation into Trump.

Raffensperger’s campaign expects a runoff, while Carr’s and King’s campaigns expect to win, said advisers to the three campaigns who all spoke anonymously to share the campaign’s internal thinking. . Trump-backed Sen. Burt Jones looks poised to win in his race for lieutenant governor — perhaps the only other win expected for Trump on Tuesday night aside from Walker’s likely victory in the GOP Senate race.

While the influence of Trump’s endorsement is limited in the various Georgian races, Republicans still admire and appreciate him. But his level of racing involvement has bothered some conservatives.

Mary Patrick, the GOP chairwoman in Jasper County on the outskirts of metro Atlanta, said many were mad that Trump had decided to endorse famed TV doctor Mehmet Oz in the Senate race. in Pennsylvania, where he is locked in a too close -call race.

“It really bothered people here that he endorsed Dr. Oz,” Patrick said, as Oz’s conservative bona fide was called into question. “But in Georgia, from what people are saying here, he has to back off, just stay out of it. We like his policies, especially compared to what we have now, but most people think he got way too involved in things that shouldn’t matter to him.

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