“You’re going to have a lot of very strong Trump supporters who will vote for Brian Kemp,” said Martha Zoller, a talk radio host in Georgia who has previously worked for both Perdue and Kemp.
Zoller said that when Perdue considered running for governor, she advised him to find meaningful ways to differentiate himself as a candidate, in addition to airing Trump’s complaints. She said she told Perdue that “it could not just be about the 2020 election.” It never happened, and Perdue goes into Tuesday’s primary consumption and lags badly in the polls.
Georgia could provide the clearest indication yet of the limits of Trump’s influence during a stretch of primary elections that has underscored the extent to which he remains the center of the Republican Party, as most GOP candidates, even those who do not receive his support, profess their loyalty to him.
Peach State power struggle
Georgia has in recent years emerged as one of the country’s most important political battlegrounds. Demographic change has transformed what had long been a reliable red state into a competitive one. The Democrats’ two victories in the Senate victories here in January 2021 gave the party full control over Congress.
It is also ground zero in Trump’s vendetta against Republicans who did not support his lies about election fraud. Trump helped recruit and clear the field for Perdue, the former senator who lost in one of those rounds last year. He also supports rep. Jody Hice in his attempt to oust Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who became a national figure after Trump’s phone call in early January 2021, urging him to “find” enough votes to turn Georgia around and deliver his 16 election campaign college votes on Trump.
But not all voters are interested in resuming that election.
“I wish he would be out of our election,” Chuck Horton, a retired police officer and Oconee County commissioner, said after a Kemp rally Saturday. “I voted for him in 2020. There is no option on the other side. But I think he is wrong. I do not think the election was stolen and he does not support the right man.”
Georgia is set for a series of competitive races in November. Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock faces a full six-year term and is likely to face Trump-backed former football star Herschel Walker, who is favored to win Tuesday’s Republican primary. In the governor’s race, Democrats will nominate Stacey Abrams, who is running without resistance, for the second time in a row after her narrow defeat to Kemp in 2018.
Some Republican voters say they would rather stick to the governor who won the close election in 2018 than follow a former president, whom they consider at least partially responsible for the party’s 2020 loss in Georgia. Some pointed to Trump’s constant criticism of submitted ballot papers, claiming he harmed his own chances and suppressed Republicans’ turnout in Senate Senate elections.
“We would not be in this mess, in my opinion, as far as our senators and representatives are concerned, he would have done one thing: If he had stayed away from his Twitter for three days out of the seven – just stayed away – then he would not have alienated his own supporters because of the things he said, and we would not look for 11,000 votes, “said Eddie Drinkard, an Oconee County land real estate agent, referring to President Joe Biden’s 2020 margin on victory. “But he did not have enough sense to do so.”
Kemp has positioned himself for a victory Tuesday by carefully avoiding any criticism of Trump in political affairs and making sure not to say anything that would make Trump loyalists furious.
He has been joined on the campaign trail by a number of Republican governors, including Arizona’s Doug Ducey, Ricketts and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Pence will appear alongside Kemp at an election rally on Monday.
At his campaign stops, Kemp has leaned into an argument that he is the strongest alternative to Abrams, and one that Republican voters will rally around once the race is narrowed to a head-to-head election.
“I think Stacey Abrams is a great unifier. I think every Republican in Georgia will be united after Tuesday,” Kemp told reporters Saturday afternoon.
Kemp and his supporters have spent more than $ 12 million on TV commercials heading into Tuesday’s primary election, nearly doubling Perdue’s side.
An election for more than 2020
In some ways, Kemp’s actions more closely reflect the views of today’s GOP voters: In April 2020, he was quick to reopen the state during the Covid-19 pandemic – a stance that was widely attacked at the time by public health experts and even by Trump, who said : “I think it’s too early.”
Although he rejected Trump’s lies about election fraud, he also signed a restrictive new voting measure passed by Georgia’s Legislature last year, which imposes new restrictions on ballot papers, bans on offering food and water to people queuing to vote and more. That law is being tested for the first time this year.
Kemp supporters argue that Trump’s criticism of Kemp ignores the reality that the governor has implemented conservative policies despite the state’s shift to the left.
“Those comments are actually about himself, not the governor,” said Carol Williams, who works in real estate in Athens. “I think the former president has no skin in the game in Georgia. He does not understand what is best for our state. We have stayed open. We have done the right thing here in this Covid. His support must stay more in Florida. “
Perdue, meanwhile, has built his entire campaign around the lie that Republicans’ losses in 2020 were the result of fraud.
“I’m not sure his heart was completely in it,” said Zoller, the talk radio host. “I think Senator Perdue at his core ran more because he was angry about losing in 2020 than about what he could do as governor.”
Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and Republican presidential candidate in 2008 who is now running for Congress, joined Perdue on the campaign track Friday.
“Kemp had the opportunity to do something about the quarrels that had taken place at this last election. I do not know why he was so hesitant, why, you know, he just agreed to go along, and that is unfortunate. And we can count on David Perdue doing the opposite of that, “Palin said at a convention in Savannah.