Trump loyalist Perdue fights for not just his seat but the future of the GOP

U.S. Sen. David Perdue in Georgia runoff. Perdue and wife Bonnie Perdue make their pitch to supporters in Atlanta Dec. 14. Credit: Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

WASHINGTON—Sen. David Perdue during his six years in Congress served as a close ally of President Donald Trump.

But with Trump in defeat, it now falls to the senior Georgia senator to preserve not just his own seat in January’s runoff election but also control of the U.S. Senate as the GOP’s last bastion in Washington. Perdue is paired with Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who’s running in a special election at the same time to retain her seat.

If just one of them wins, Republicans will keep their majority, a point that Perdue has hammered. “Our seats—Kelly’s and mine—will determine the direction of the country for the next 50 to 100 years, y’all,” Perdue said during a campaign rally in late November.

Republicans have a party stalwart in the well-to-do 71-year-old former CEO, a Macon native who now lives in exclusive Sea Island on St. Simons Island with his wife, Bonnie. The couple has two sons, Blake and David III Perdue, and a daughter who died in infancy. He also has two grandkids, David VI and Hudson Perdue.

Perdue has rarely deviated from his party position in his Senate votes, backed the president’s conservative Supreme Court nominees and supported the repeal of Obamacare.

But Perdue, who’s fighting off a challenge from Jon Ossoff, a former congressional aide and CEO of a London-based investigative TV production company, also has been linked to a 2020 congressional insider trading scandal. Multiple senators sold their stocks at the start of the coronavirus pandemic after a closed-door Senate hearing right before the stock market began to crash on Feb. 20.

The Senate Ethics Committee cleared him of any wrongdoing, but Perdue is one of the most prolific stock traders in the Senate. His trades alone in his first term account for nearly a third of all senator stock trades, according to Senate Stock Watcher, a group that compiles all stocks traded by lawmakers.

The Daily Beast found that before Perdue was put in charge of a panel on the Armed Services Committee that had jurisdiction over the U.S. Navy, he bought stocks in a company that made parts for submarines.

Effect on voters?

The timing of his stocks trades, especially the ones during the pandemic, is something Democrats have latched onto in running ads against Perdue. But some political scientists aren’t sure how strongly the stock scandal will resonate with Georgia voters.

Amy Steigerwalt, a political science professor at Georgia State University, said she doesn’t think Perdue’s most diehard supporters will be swayed by his stock trades. However, Georgians who split their votes between Perdue and President-elect Joe Biden might be, “if it could be shown that Perdue was benefiting, but also perhaps causing him to vote in a way that also harmed his constituents,” she said.

She added that a bigger challenge for Perdue is convincing Georgians to go to the polls when Trump voters—with the president’s encouragement— are still contesting the 2020 presidential election and are questioning whether voting is secure. Trump narrowly lost Georgia to Biden.

“He has to also deal with the fact that the president of the United States, which he is a strong ally, is contesting all of the voting outcomes but particularly the outcome of the 2020 election,” she said. “That is definitely hanging over the race.”

Perdue has backed a long-shot Texas lawsuit that aimed to overturn the election results in several states that President-Elect Joe Biden won, such as Georgia, and has called for the resignation of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, accusing him of mismanaging the 2020 presidential election, according to The Associated Press.

The Perdue campaign did not respond to the Georgia Recorder’s request for comment for this article.

Just short of 50 percent

Perdue faces the January contest because Georgia’s election rules require that if a candidate fails to secure more than 50 percent of votes, a special runoff election is called. Perdue received only 49.7 percent of the votes on Nov. 3, to Ossoff’s 47.9 percent.

“I’m just a few thousand votes short,” Perdue said during a TV interview with WJBF. “The eyes of America are on us.”

The race is also becoming increasingly expensive. As of Oct. 14, Perdue has raised more than $21 million, and Ossoff more than $32 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Republicans have descended onto Georgia to campaign for Perdue, with appearances from both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

Perdue first ran for Georgia’s Senate seat in 2014, using millions out of his own pocket. He credited his longtime business experience as the CEO of Dollar General and as senior vice president for Reebok as proof of his ability to make good decisions based on the economy.

In a field of five GOP primary candidates, he and U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston advanced to a runoff and Perdue won by 2 percentage points. In the general election, he faced Democrat Michelle Nunn, and won with 53 percent of the vote.

In one of the most crucial votes of his Senate career, in December 2017 he voted for the tax overhaul, which reduced taxes for businesses and corporations. An investigation by ProPublica found that Perdue quietly pushed for a tax break for wealthy sports owners. That would have benefited team owners such as Loeffler, who is part owner of the Atlanta Dream WNBA team, but the provision was eventually rejected by the U.S. Treasury secretary.

Perdue has accumulated personal wealth, but he’s hardly the richest member of Congress. A ranking by the publication Roll Call in 2018, based on personal financial disclosures, found that Perdue was 31st, with an estimated $15.8 million in holdings.

On social issues, he’s a staunch opponent of abortion rights and has opposed the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2015 to allow same-sex marriages.

“Like many Georgians, I believe in traditional marriage between one man and one woman,” he said in a statement at the time to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Perdue also denies that climate change is real. He pushed the president to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords and voted against a resolution that stated humans were contributors to climate change. Perdue and his wife’s beach community in Sea Island is building walls to combat rising sea levels, which are a direct result of climate change.

The runoff campaign, though, has heard little policy discussion. It is going to come down to turnout, said Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Emory University.

“In an election where Democrats have narrowed the gap, even though overall turnout is gonna be lower, Republicans can’t take that for granted,” she said.