Kemp aimed to brand his challenger damaged merchandise, repeatedly claiming Perdue lost his last election to Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff. The governor has been more focused on preparing for his run against presumptive Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams.
Kemp has said three times that he wants to make sure that “Stacey Abrams will never be your governor or your next president” and that he is the only candidate to have already beaten her, in reference to her victory in 2018.
The two candidates also discussed rising crime, the economy and pandemic restrictions, as well as the issue of the precinct of Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood. But the distance between Kemp and Perdue’s stances on the 2020 election marked their biggest difference as the two tried to brag about their conservative stances on supporting law enforcement, stopping the illegal immigration and the improvement of the economic situation of Georgia.
The May 24 Republican primary election in the state has top-to-bottom races with candidates endorsed by Trump. Trump has endorsed five candidates across the state of Georgia, but the governor’s race has caught the former president’s attention.
Trump began a public feud with Kemp after the November 2020 presidential election when he asked the governor not to certify the state’s election results. He also asked Kemp to call a special session of the state legislature to appoint a new set of Republican voters to cast the state Electoral College votes. Kemp refused.
Perdue echoed Trump’s calls for a special session on Sunday. He also complained to the incumbent governor that there had been no arrests for voter fraud in connection with the 2020 election.
“Weak leaders take credit when things are going well and blame someone else when things are not going well,” Perdue said.
Kemp’s response: “Weak leaders blame everyone else for their own loss instead of themselves.”
Kemp added that “looking in the rearview mirror” would not defeat Abrams, who was mentioned at least 15 times during the debate.
Trump claimed Kemp’s 2018 victory in the gubernatorial race, after his endorsement helped secure a runoff election, and he told his aides that meant Kemp owed him a political debt. When Kemp did not accede to Trump’s wishes, Trump vigorously and systematically attacked him.
At a rally last year, Trump went so far as to suggest he would prefer Abrams over Kemp, if they repeated their one-on-one match in November.
“Of course, I think having him might be better than having your current governor, if you want to know what I think. It might very well be better,” Trump said at a rally in Perry, Kenya. Georgia, in September 2021.
Perdue became Trump’s candidate of choice for governor and quickly embraced calls to investigate the 2020 election and criticism that Kemp should have called a special session for his campaign.
Despite Trump’s endorsement, Perdue Still trailing in the polls: The latest poll from WGCL-TV/Landmark shows Kemp with a 24-point lead over Perdue. Fifty-two percent of people supported Kemp, 27 percent supported Perdue, and about 10 percent were undecided.
Earlier polls this year also all show Kemp in the lead.
A Trump rally in March for Perdue and his other Georgia trade endorsements did not move the polls.
“Well, Trump came and there was general media coverage of his rally. If you don’t know at this point, you’re not a voter,” Brian Robinson, a Republican consultant, said in a pre-debate interview. “You’re so disengaged there’s no way of knowing there’s an election on May 24.”
According to the latest campaign finance disclosures, Kemp has more than $12 million in cash, compared to less than $1 million for Perdue.
Previously, both candidates have skipped debates: Perdue missed his only debate with Ossoff before the 2021 election runoff, and Kemp withdrew from one of two debates against Abrams in the 2018 race.
The two Republicans will square off again in another debate on Thursday.