The Athens Republican - who failed in his first bid for statewide office in 2006 - will serve out the remaining year of Karen Handel's term. In choosing Kemp, Perdue picked one of the three Republicans already running for a full four-year term as the state's top elections official.
Handel is leaving the post one year early to concentrate full time on her bid to become the GOP nominee for governor.
Perdue's selection will give Kemp, 46, the power of incumbency, providing him a big boost in the race for the $130,690-a-year post. But it will also prevent him from raising any money during the legislative session, which is expected to last through March.
Kemp said on Monday he still has a strong grassroots network in place from his 2006 bid for agriculture commissioner and his four years in the state Senate, so he expects to be able to collect the cash he needs for the contest.
"We'll make up for lost time when the session is over," he said. He called the appointment an advantage.
In a statement released by his office on Monday, Perdue said Kemp's "leadership abilities and integrity will be a great asset to Georgia and the Secretary of State's office."
Perdue had been expected to announce state Rep. Jim Cole as his pick but Cole yanked his name from consideration after conferring with his family over the weekend.
"At first, it seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime," Cole said Monday. Cole said he had been exploring opportunities at Mercer University - where he is currently assistant athletic director - that would allow him to spend more time at his home in Forsyth with his two young children. Cole said he plans to continue pursuing those options and won't seek re-election to his House seat.
Cole had served as a floor leader for Perdue, meaning he's helped push the governor's agenda in the House.
Kemp served in the state Senate from 2002 to 2006 and lost a 2006 bid to be the Republican nominee for state agriculture commissioner.
He faces a three-way GOP primary. Also running are Doug MacGinnitie, a former city councilman in Sandy Springs, and Robin Carlisle, former Flowery Branch city councilwoman.
Given how deep into the primary season the race is, MacGinnitie said Perdue should have appointed an interim caretaker for the secretary of state's job, rather than handpicking a candidate from the GOP ranks.
"For the governor to get involved in this way is disappointing," MacGinnitie said
Kemp is a small business owner, specializing in real estate investments and property management.
As of June 30, he had $255,660 in the bank for the secretary of state's race. MacGinnitie had $223,674. New campaign finance filings are due Friday covering the remainder of 2009.
In addition to overseeing elections in Georgia, the Secretary of State's Office administers the incorporation of businesses and oversees professional licensing boards.
The job can be a stepping stone for higher office. Handel and her predecessor, Democrat Cathy Cox, both ran for governor. Max Cleland was secretary of state before rising to the U.S. Senate.