ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp defended his record of the last four years Sunday night against withering attacks from former U.S. Sen. David Perdue in the first televised debate of this year’s Republican gubernatorial campaign.
Perdue, who has former President Donald Trump’s endorsement, accused Kemp of failing to investigate allegations of voter fraud after what he called a “rigged and stolen” 2020 election in Georgia. He blamed the governor not only for President Joe Biden’s victory but for the loss of his Senate seat to Democrat Jon Ossoff.
“He sold us out,” Perdue declared in the debate, which aired on Atlanta’s WSB-TV. “The only reason I’m not in the United States Senate is you caved in,” Perdue told Kemp.
After responding that he followed the law and the U.S. Constitution following the election, Kemp chastised Perdue for focusing so much attention on the last election cycle. Instead, the governor cited his accomplishments in going after criminals, creating jobs and reopening Georgia’s economy during the pandemic earlier than other states.
“That is a record that will beat [presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee] Stacey Abrams, not looking in the rear-view mirror,” Kemp said.
Both candidates supported legislation the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed this year allowing Georgians to carry concealed firearms without a permit and restricting how certain “divisive concepts” including racism can be taught in the schools.
But they clashed over the state’s strategy in luring electric vehicle startup Rivian to invest $5 billion in a truck manufacturing plant east of Atlanta that will create 7,500 jobs. Perdue criticized the use of generous tax incentives to convince the company to come to Georgia, suggesting a better approach to economic development would be to eliminate the state income tax.
“You’re taking hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in Georgia and giving them to a company owned by [billionaire and Democratic mega donor George] Soros,” Perdue said.
Kemp shot back that the Rivian deal was part of a successful effort he has waged to boost the economy of rural Georgia. The governor accused Perdue, on the other hand, of sending American jobs overseas during decades as a corporate CEO.
“We’re bringing in 7,500 great-paying jobs to rural parts of our state,” Kemp said. “He’s spent his whole business career outsourcing jobs to China.”
Perdue criticized the governor for not taking a position on a bill calling for a vote on whether the Buckhead area of Atlanta should break away and form its own city, legislation that ultimately fizzled. He tied the push for cityhood to rising crime in Atlanta.
“These people have no service up there,” Perdue said. “The only way they’re going to get there is to control their own government.”
Kemp said he decided to keep his “powder dry” on the issue.
“As much as you want me to be a dictator, I’m not,” the governor told Perdue. “That’s something that is going to have to go through the legislative process.”
The two also clashed on the issue of crime, with Perdue hammering away at statistics illustrating the increase in violent crime, particularly in Atlanta, since the pandemic began.
“What we have is a runaway crime situation the governor is burying his head about,” Perdue said.
Kemp responded by citing the number of arrests made by the multiagency Crime Suppression Unit he formed in the spring of last year. “We have taken stolen weapons off the street,” he said. “We’re going to continue to do that.”
Kemp and Perdue will meet twice more on the airwaves before the May 24 primary, later this week in Savannah and Sunday night on Georgia Public Television.
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.