‘Blah, blah, blah’ Second Georgia gov debate focuses again on 2020 election

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Republican Gov. Brian Kemp tries to respond to Former Sen. David Perdue during the first debate of the Republican primary for governor on Sunday, April 24, 2022. (Miguel Martinez / Atlanta Journal Constitution / TNS)

Credit: TNS

Republican Gov.  Brian Kemp tries to respond to Former Sen.  David Perdue during the first debate of the Republican primary for governor on Sunday, April 24, 2022. (Miguel Martinez / Atlanta Journal Constitution / TNS)

Credit: TNS

caption arrowCaption

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp tries to respond to Former Sen. David Perdue during the first debate of the Republican primary for governor on Sunday, April 24, 2022. (Miguel Martinez / Atlanta Journal Constitution / TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Kemp accused Perdue of not living up to his tough talk on election fraud and, time and again, tried to shift attention to a legislative agenda that includes new laws that roll back gun restrictions, slash the income tax and overhaul education policies.

“Lord have mercy,” the governor sighed during one exchange, “there’s a lot of spaghetti being thrown against the wall.”

Perdue sounded just as disgusted a few minutes into the hourlong event.

“Blah, blah, blah – my goodness,” the former senator said of Kemp’s defense of his actions in 2020. “It’s more of the same.”

Trailing far behind Kemp in recent polls, Perdue has embraced the role of an underdog, with the needling attacks that go with it, as he scrambles for traction ahead of the May 24 primary.

He spent much of the two debates trying to rattle the incumbent by interrupting him and occasionally talking over his remarks. And though Kemp did not seem as flustered as he did at times on Sunday, he was clearly frustrated by his former ally.

If the enduring image of the first showdown was of the two pointing fingers at one another a few paces apart in the Channel 2 Action News studio, the second debate was marked by Kemp’s exasperated attempts to temper Perdue’s broadsides.

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“If you beat Jon Ossoff why aren’t you a US senator?” Kemp said to Perdue’s false claim that he did not lose to the Democrat in 2021.

“I’m not a dictator. I can not just wave a wand, ”Kemp responded to criticism about stalled legislation to create a city of Buckhead.

“When I was frustrated about the election, I did something about it,” Kemp said, citing the new voting laws adopted last year by the Republican-controlled Legislature in response to Trump-driven concerns about election fraud.

Abrams, a favorite villain of the Georgia GOP, was not far from their minds. The presumptive Democratic nominee’s name was invoked more than a dozen times as each candidate claimed only he could halt her second bid for governor.

Only Kemp could rightly contend that he had done so before, a narrow victory in 2018 that ended with her refusal to concede defeat.

“I have a record to beat her again,” he said, “and I’m the only person who has beat her so far.”

Ahead by more than 20 points in recent polls, Kemp is racing to smother Perdue’s chances by landing an outright victory in the primary. If he wins a majority of the vote, Kemp can avoid a dicey June runoff that could breathe new life into Perdue’s insurgent campaign.

With little to lose, Perdue spent the debate mixing claims of election fraud with attacks that paint Kemp as a squishy moderate desperate to pander to conservative Trump supporters to keep his job.

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That forced Kemp into a tricky balancing act, aiming to portray himself as a sharp-elbowed fighter to energize his supporters while trying to avoid the sort of damaging gaffe or angry outburst that could haunt him on the campaign trail.

“We’ve got to move forward, and I’m ready to do that running on a record that can beat Stacey Abrams,” Kemp said.

In this debate, he demanded as many rebuttals as Perdue, jockeying for airtime to deflect the attacks. Pressed at one point if he could change any of his actions after the 2020 election, when he refused Trump’s demand to illegally overturn the election, Kemp was blunt.

“I certainly have no regrets, ever, for following the laws and the constitution of this state.”

Perdue, meanwhile, left his one-time friend with a final insult before the cameras panned out, a throwback to his 2018 work to help Kemp win a brutal runoff against then-Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.

“I’m just telling you, the worst mistake I ever made was getting Donald Trump’s endorsement for this man,” he said. “He’d have never been elected without that.”

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