Gov. Brian Kemp overwhelmingly defeated his Trump-backed challenger Tuesday, setting him up for a long-awaited rematch with his Democratic rival, Stacey Abrams.

This story also appeared in Georgia Recorder

The contest between the governor and former U.S. Sen. David Perdue was originally expected to be competitive. But by the time Tuesday rolled around, Kemp was leading Perdue by 30 points in recent polls, and with most of the votes counted late Tuesday, Kemp was outperforming the polls: The governor had won about 73% of the vote to Perdue’s 22% as of midnight. 

Perdue had centered his campaign on former President Donald Trump’s support and said he believed the 2020 presidential election was “rigged and stolen.”

Trump has relentlessly criticized Kemp ever since he refused to help reverse the former president’s loss in Georgia, and he waded deeply into Georgia politics, endorsing 13 candidates in the GOP primary.

But Kemp received a boost in recent weeks from national Republicans like former Vice President Mike Pence, who stumped for Kemp Monday, and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.

The closely watched primary thrust Georgia once again into the national spotlight and was widely viewed as a proxy battle for the struggling factions within the Republican Party.

“Even in the middle of a tough primary, conservative across our state didn’t listen to the noise. They didn’t get distracted. They knew our record of fighting and winning for hard-working Georgians,” Kemp told a large group of supporters gathered at the Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta.

 David Perdue concedes defeat alongside wife Bonnie Perdue.

Perdue had given mixed signals on whether he would accept the outcome of the election, but he called Kemp to congratulate him. The defeat comes on the heels of his high-profile loss to Jon Ossoff, which tilted control of the U.S. Senate to Democrats. 

“It’s emotional for all of us,” Perdue told his supporters Tuesday night. “We’re disappointed. I get that. Let’s take a few hours and lick our wounds and tomorrow morning, you’re going to hear me go to work for Brian Kemp to make damn sure that Stacey Abrams is never governor of Georgia.”

Early polling gives Kemp the edge over Abrams, who narrowly lost to Kemp in 2018, but he warned his supporters of the tough fight ahead. And though Democrats face headwinds nationally, state party leaders and activists hope to build on recent ballot-box successes in statewide elections.

Abrams, who has cemented his status as a national star, is now the official Democratic nominee in the race. She talked to a large group of reporters gathered outside an Atlanta polling place about her campaign as it revs up for the fall election.

“Four years ago, I warned about the failure that Kemp was going to be, and four years later, I’m going to prove that he was the wrong choice for Georgia,” Abrams said Tuesday morning. 

Georgia Recorder reporter Ross Williams contributed to this report. 

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing...