Trump-Backed Perdue Struggles for Funds to Unseat Ga. Gov. Kemp

'We’ll be outraised and outspent, but we won’t be outworked...'

(Headline USA) During his two Senate campaigns, Republican David Perdue had little trouble raking in millions in campaign cash.

But as he tries to unseat Georgia’s incumbent governor, fellow Republican Brian Kemp, Perdue is struggling to attract donors.

Perdue’s top 30 individual contributors pumped in nearly $450,000 to his Senate campaigns in 2014 and 2020, according to campaign finance disclosures. But that same group and their immediate family members have steered just $26,200 to his current run for governor.

Kemp, meanwhile, has raised $81,450 from these previous Perdue backers.

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Perdue’s difficulty winning back previous donors suggests a broader challenge for him ahead of Georgia’s May 24 primary, which is being closely watched for signals about the direction of the national Republican Party.

Despite the backing of former President Donald Trump, Perdue is well behind Kemp in what is certain to be an expensive race, an Associated Press review of federal and state campaign finance records shows.

Perdue raised just $1.1 million from the launch of his campaign in December through the end of January, an opening stretch when candidates typically try to post their most impressive numbers, and he had less than $1 million in cash on hand.

Kemp took in $7.4 million by Jan. 31 and had $12.7 million on hand. The governor, defending himself against fierce criticism from Trump for being disloyal in the aftermath of the disputed 2020 election, has pledged to unleash that cash advantage, spending $4.2 million on television ads alone.

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“The kind thing to say is maybe the fundraising has not been where he expected,” said Alec Poitevint, a former chairman of the Georgia Republican Party who is supporting Kemp.

Perdue is turning to Trump for help, scheduling a Wednesday appearance with the former president at his Mar-a-Lago resort, where contributors will have to give $3,000 to attend. A picture with Trump means spending $24,200.

That’s ahead of a campaign-style Trump rally in northeast Georgia this month that will feature Perdue and former football player Herschel Walker, the lead Republican vying for one of the state’s U.S. Senate seats.

Perdue’s campaign acknowledges it is behind in the money race and is relying instead on energy from the GOP’s most loyal voters.

“We’ll be outraised and outspent, but we won’t be outworked,” said Perdue spokesperson Jenni Sweat.

“This is a people versus politicians race, and the silent majority is rising up to reject failed career politicians like Brian Kemp,” Sweat added. “David Perdue is proud to be supported by a strong network of grassroots conservatives who will propel him to victory in May and November.”

For now, Perdue is particularly reliant on one family. Chip Howalt, his wife Cynthia, and their three Dalton-based companies including Textile Rubber & Chemical Co., have given Perdue $121,000, more than 10% of Perdue’s fundraising total.

Textile Rubber & Chemical Co. also gave $250,000 in January to the Georgia Values Fund, an independent committee supporting Perdue.

That’s the only contribution the fund reported through March 1.

Howalt didn’t respond to messages seeking comment. But in January, he emailed the Georgia Recorder regarding his donations to U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene that he was motivated to support candidates, like Perdue, who back Trump.

“The only financial support our Family will pull will be from ANY RINO’s complicit in blocking investigations into Voter Fraud and Irregularities and not Objecting to confirm the Biden Electors where practical and advisable to do so,” Howalt wrote to the nonprofit news outlet.

One option for Perdue, a former CEO of Reebok and Dollar General, would be to infuse the campaign with his own money. He had assets worth between nearly $15.2 million and $42.5 million in 2018, according to Open Secrets, a nonpartisan group that tracks political spending.

Perdue also loaned or gave his campaign more than $5 million during his 2014 Senate run. As of Jan. 31, he hadn’t offered the same support for the governor’s campaign, but has suggested he might.

“We’re going to make sure this thing is well funded,” Perdue told reporters last week. “We’re going to get our message out.”

Some in the party worry that a no-holds-barred primary brawl will leave the eventual nominee weakened heading into a general election race against well-funded dark-money Democrat Stacey Abrams.

Amid the bitterness, some donors say they will simply wait for the primary to play out without taking a side.

Among those is Sunny Park, founder and CEO of Atlanta-based General Building Maintenance, which has thousands of office cleaning employees throughout the U.S.

A prolific donor to Georgia Republican causes, Park has previously backed both Kemp and Perdue, and gave Kemp $3,750 toward his reelection bid before Perdue jumped in.

“Until the primary is over, I’m going to remain neutral,” Park said. “I told both, ‘You go ahead and win and then I’ll be right back with you.’”

Some past Perdue contributors, especially those that gave toward the eye-watering $100 million Perdue raised in 2020, are oriented toward congressional giving, and may not care who becomes governor of Georgia.

But some big contributors who aren’t donating, such as Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus or Atlanta’s Delta Air Lines, are Georgia-based and have a stake in the GOP primary results.

And for them, they may just prefer Kemp.

Take for example, Vince Kolber who previously donated more than $10,000 to Perdue and said he’d met and admired him, but nonetheless plans to stay out of the primary.

Kolber, founder and chairman of Residco, a Chicago aviation and rail transportation logistics firm and a former two-time Republican House candidate in Illinois, said his sense was that many Republicans nationally “were just mad as hell” that Trump allegedly played a role in depressing Republican turnout during a January 2021 runoff, costing the party both Perdue’s Senate seat and that of Sen. Kelly Loeffler.

Because the runoff was subject to the same dubious rules as the 2020 general election, left-wing activists supporting now Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossof pounced into action, stuffing unmanned ballot boxes with unverifiable absentee ballots in a neck-and-neck finish that saw the Democrats pull ahead at the last minute.

Despite Trump’s heavy campaigning for the two GOP incumbents, some political subversives, including shadowy attorney Lin Wood, called on Republicans to boycott altogether.

“I sense that’s softening now,” Kolber added, but perhaps not fast enough to buoy Perdue, especially given that Kemp has been a solid governor.

Indeed, Kemp has risen above Trump’s attacks and has largely supported the subequent election-integrity efforts in the state to close loopholes that Abrams’s team of activists, funded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, had exploited.

“I haven’t heard anybody say, ‘That guy was just out to lunch’ or crazy or anything like that,” Kolber said of Kemp. “I think that he’s been well-received for what he tried to do. Trump’s consternation to what happened not withstanding.”

Loeffler, who also lost her reelection bid in 2021, downplayed tensions within the GOP, bringing the focus back past the primary to the red wave that is expected to rebuke President Joe Biden’s failed administration.

“The Left loves to focus on divisions on our side,” said Loeffler, who now runs Greater Georgia, a nonprofit designed to boost conservative outreach and voter registration efforts. “What voters are focused on is the harsh realities of the liberal politics that are playing out in their lives every day.”

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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