This is a column by Editorial Page Editor Adam Van Brimmer.
David Perdue’s political future comes down to a simple question.
Not “Will you run for the Senate again?” We know the recently defeated one-termer will. He has filed paperwork that is the initial procedural step toward challenging for the seat now held by Raphael Warnock. The still-to-come formal announcement is likely to clear the 2022 GOP primary field.
Assuming a Perdue-Warnock showdown is inevitable, the question for Perdue is this: “Did you learn anything from the last time?”
Perdue’s failed 2020 Senate runoff bid was a how-not-to guide to campaigning.
With access to tens of millions of advertising dollars, he went almost entirely negative. He frequently misrepresented his opponent’s deeds and background.
He also skipped two debates and thereby eschewed opportunities to connect with swing voters on policy. He appeared cowardly in his absence, particularly given the fact that the challenger, Jon Ossoff, had wounded him in an earlier forum.
Finally, he allowed himself to be defined as a Donald Trump toady. He even emulated the president’s churlishness in his intentionally mispronouncing the name of Kamala Harris during a rally. This tactic appealed to the Trump base, but as Nov. 3 and then Jan. 5 showed, Trumpists aren’t enough in number to carry a candidate to statewide victory.
The post-mortem on Perdue’s campaign is best summarized this way: He declined to tell his story and share his vision and went from the top vote getter in a single election in Georgia history on Nov. 3, 2020 to the runner-up to Ossoff on Jan. 5, 2021.
Perdue best heed those lessons, because the 2022 election promises to look eerily similar to 2020.
The opponent is different but then the Democratic candidate’s identity mattered little in 2020. A significant percentage of Ossoff voters saw the race as a second referendum on Trump, and it appears the now former president will insert himself and his influence, for better and worse, into the higher-profile 2022 races.
The Senate is changed too, with the Democrats now in the majority. However, chamber control will be in play again next year, just as it was in the 2020 runoff when Perdue’s loss, coupled with that of Kelly Loeffler to Warnock on the same day, decided party power.
Lastly, there’s the fractured state of the Republican Party. No one seems to possess the gravitas to force self-awareness and a pivot away from the politics of grievance to one of pragmatic ideas. Without such a shift, the GOP will continue to lose ground in battleground states — such as Georgia.
Perdue will need to reinvent himself — and hire a brilliant team of campaign strategists — to overcome the circumstances.
He must highlight the federal dollars he delivered for Georgians in his six years in the Senate while rebranding himself. He can’t run on a fiscal responsibility platform as he did in 2014, not after showing as much regard for the debt clock as a run-and-gun basketball team does the shot clock during his previous term on Capitol Hill.
Perdue would also do well to soften his partisan tone. You’d think Perdue, fresh off a loss to a greenhorn with a political résumé thinner than a supermarket flyer, might realize lacing his rhetoric with the phrase “radically liberal individuals” is a turnoff to less-ideological swing voters.
Yet that’s what Perdue said last week when filing his 2022 campaign paperwork. Let’s not forget how the last person to talk that way about Warnock fared. Radical Liberal Raphael Warnock, as Loeffler infamously referred to him again and again in a pre-runoff debate, is now Sen. Radical Liberal Raphael Warnock.
If Perdue wants to hold that title again — the senator part — he’ll need to show he’s a good learner.
Contact Adam Van Brimmer at email@example.com.
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