- The Washington Times - Monday, May 9, 2022

The underdog in Georgia’s Republican primary race for governor is seizing on the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion for a last-minute jolt to his flailing candidacy before the May 24 election.

Former Sen. David Perdue, who is trailing incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp in polls by double digits, is working to convince voters that he is the more pro-life candidate. He is pledging to impose an all-out ban on abortion if the Supreme Court ultimately overturns the constitutional right to abortion.

Mr. Perdue is challenging Mr. Kemp to make the same promise, and one Georgia pollster says the issue could help Mr. Perdue gain traction with the state’s pro-life primary electorate.

He has been given a second breath of oxygen with the abortion issue,” Georgia pollster Matt Towery told The Washington Times.

Mr. Towery, chairman of the polling and news website Insider Advantage Georgia, said his internal polling shows that 70% of the state’s Republican voters favor a candidate who supports banning abortion outright rather than one who prefers to take incremental steps.

Mr. Kemp signed a bill in 2019 banning abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, about six weeks into pregnancy. A federal judge blocked the law in 2020, ruling that it was unconstitutional. Under the previous law, abortions were allowed up until 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The pending Supreme Court ruling could soon enable the state to enact a fetal heartbeat law.

Mr. Perdue said he wants Georgia to adopt an even stricter prohibition if the court rules with Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who wrote in the leaked draft opinion that abortion is not a constitutional right and that the states, not the federal government, should decide its legality. 

“Any ruling from the Supreme Court that would save innocent lives would be an historic milestone,” Mr. Perdue said. “If I were governor when this ruling was issued, I would immediately call the legislature back into a special session to ban abortion in Georgia.”

Mr. Kemp did not pledge to propose an outright ban but said in anticipation of the final Supreme Court ruling, “Georgians should rest assured that I will continue to fight for the strongest pro-life law in the country.”

Georgia’s fetal heartbeat law is considered one of the most prohibitive in the nation. That could make it difficult for Mr. Perdue to convince voters he is a drastically more pro-life candidate than Mr. Kemp.

Mr. Kemp’s campaign team responded to Mr. Perdue’s call for a stricter law by pointing out that Mr. Perdue did not vote to ban abortion during his years in the Senate and that Mr. Kemp signed the fetal heartbeat bill and other pro-life legislation, including a measure allowing nonprofit groups to provide free housing for pregnant women.

“It certainly is an issue that motivates Republican primary voters,” Georgia Life Alliance Executive Director Martha Zoller told The Washington Times. “But I don’t know that Sen. Perdue calling for a special session will have as much of an impact as the fact that Gov. Kemp has actually passed a lot of pro-life legislation in the last three years.”

Neither Mr. Perdue nor Mr. Kemp sought the endorsement of Georgia Right to Life, which supports an incremental push to ban abortion with no exceptions for rape victims.

“They have not sought to speak to Georgia Right to Life,” Executive Director Zemmie Fleck told The Times.

In an interview with reporters last week, Mr. Perdue insisted he was not motivated by politics when he pledged to go further with Georgia’s abortion ban.

“I didn’t do it as a wedge issue,” Mr. Perdue said. “I actually called for the governor to get where I am, and let’s stand shoulder to shoulder. It should be all of us protecting life.”

Mr. Perdue has about two weeks to win over more Republican primary voters. The most recent polling average by RealClearPolitics shows Mr. Kemp ahead by more than 22 percentage points.

“If the Purdue campaign has the sense to do it right, and the money, then of course that could be a huge difference,” Mr. Towery said. “But so far, I just have not seen them be able to do that. I don’t know that they have the resources.”

Mr. Kemp’s campaign team said Mr. Perdue is trying to deceive voters on the abortion issue in a bid to rescue his flagging campaign.

“No matter how many desperate lies former Sen. Perdue comes up with, Georgians know Gov. Kemp’s record of fighting — and winning — for the pro-life movement,” Kemp campaign spokesman Cody Hall said.

• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at sferrechio@washingtontimes.com.

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