- Ex-Sen. Perdue warned Republicans to pay attention to Georgia in the leadup to the 2020 election.
- Per the book “Flipped,” the GOP largely felt assured that Georgia would remain a “red” state.
- Perdue convinced Trump to hold a last-minute rally in the state after seeing “abysmal” voting data.
In the weeks before the 2020 election, then-Sen. David Perdue told top Republican aides that the party needed to work harder to boost GOP turnout in Georgia, and even warned then-President Donald Trump that they were both facing close races, according to a new book by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution political reporter Greg Bluestein.
Before 2020, Georgia had not backed a Democratic presidential nominee since 1992, and Republicans, who were ascendant in the state in the 2000s and for most of the last decade, were accustomed to winning statewide races by comfortable margins.
Nevertheless, Perdue continued to discuss turnout strategy to advisors in Trump’s orbit, but he was largely rebuffed by conservatives who felt that the party remained dominant in the state, which Bluestein detailed in “Flipped: How Georgia Turned Purple and Broke the Monopoly on Republican Power.”
“Senator Perdue had been hounding Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows and other advisors to the president to step up their game in Georgia, only to get repeated reassurances that he would easily win and that Perdue was overthinking his situation,” the book said. “Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien was convinced the president was in good standing in the state, up by at least four points in their polling.”
But by late October 2020, Perdue received voter data from his campaign team revealing the shakiness of his electoral standing; the senator saw “abysmal” early and absentee voting numbers coming from some of the most conservative parts of the state.
Perdue immediately appealed to Trump to discuss what his campaign staffers were telling him and to plan a course of action before Election Day.
“You and I have a tough race in Georgia,” he told the commander-in-chief, “and the polls show it’s even.”
According to the book, Trump was taken aback by the appeal because Perdue rarely requested favors from him.
“He told the senator he’d make one last pit stop in Georgia, even though his advisors repeated that it was a waste of time,” the book said.
On November 1, Trump squeezed in a last-minute rally in Rome, Georgia, with mere hours to spare before the general election.
Unlike past presidential elections in Georgia, a record 1.3 million ballots had already been cast in Georgia before Election Day. By this point, Republicans were paying closer attention to turnout numbers, but an entire pool of voters were no longer up for grabs.
On Election Day, Perdue came out ahead in his race against Democratic nominee Jon Ossoff, but he sat at 49.7% of the vote — just slightly below the majority needed to win outright and avoid a runoff. And Sen. Kelly Loeffler would land a spot in a runoff election alongside the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the newly minted Democratic nominee in the second Senate race.
But Trump’s election-night lead in Georgia whittled away as Biden cut into GOP margins in cities and majority-Black rural counties. Notably, Biden also made headway in the vote-rich Atlanta suburbs, which once featured some of the most reliably Republican voters in the state.
When Biden took the lead and was eventually certified as the winner in Georgia, Trump alleged voter fraud, a position that he has continued to take, despite no evidence of election malfeasance. He repeatedly protested the election results to GOP Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, only to make political enemies out of both men.
Perdue and Loeffler went on to lose their respective Senate runoff elections in January 2021, hurt by middling turnout in rural areas and Trump’s inability to focus on their respective races.