Trump’s thirst for revenge wreaks havoc on Georgia governor race
At the center of the potential fight is Trump’s false claim that the election was stolen, with Joe Biden’s narrow victory in Georgia as central to the story. Despite Kemp’s call for an audit that revealed no substantial change in the overall vote count, Trump continues to blame the governor for not challenging the results enough and has pledged to back a main challenger.
So far, no one of note has emerged to take on Kemp and gain Trump’s approval. A Lost bid for the governor could change that.
A clash between Kemp and Perdue could not only turn Georgia’s race for governor upside down, but divide the GOP at a time when the party’s dominance in the state has been threatened by the Democrats’ recent electoral victories. Some Republicans fear that a contested primary on the issue of the 2020 election will only further hurt the GOP, which in addition to losing the presidential election there, has also lost its two U.S. Senate seats in Georgia this year. in the second round of elections. including Perdue.
“I would hate to see two good men go head to head,” said Eric Tanenblatt, a veteran GOP strategist and former chief of staff to former Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue. “After watching the Republican Party become the dominant party in Georgia, I’m curious that a sitting Republican governor would be challenged by another Republican.”
Georgia Representative Buddy Carter, a staunch supporter of Trump in the United States House, told CNN on Tuesday that he supports and will continue to support Kemp as governor. The Republican congressman added he doesn’t know what Perdue will do.
“I hope he doesn’t show up,” Carter said. “I hope we only have one candidate behind whom we can unite.”
But other allies of the former president counter that Kemp won’t be able to keep Trump voters in the fold. Former House Speaker and Trump ally Newt Gingrich posted on his personal website on Sunday that only Perdue, not Kemp, could unite the party and defeat Democrat Stacey Abrams, who has yet to declare but who would consider his own candidacy for governor.
The result of all of this is what a Republican agent in Georgia called a “collapse” of Kemp’s political operation in his attempt to discourage Perdue from running. Republican critics of Kemphave have accused the governor’s chief of staff of threatening potential allies of Perdue with political retaliation. Meanwhile, PAC and Kemp’s campaign have hired members of Perdue’s wider political circle.
“They play hardball,” said a second GOP agent in Georgia.
Kemp’s allies, on the other hand, claim the governor is simply taking the threat of a main challenge from a former US senator seriously.
“It’s going to be a tough fight,” said a person allied to Kemp.
When asked to comment, a spokesperson for Kemp’s campaign made a statement to CNN.
“Governor Kemp and Marty proudly campaigned for – and with – former Senators Perdue and Bonnie throughout the 2020 election cycle,” said Tate Mitchell. “The governor and the first lady were honored when Senator Perdue told them personally that he would fully support their campaign for re-election earlier this year.”
Efforts to reach Perdue for comment were unsuccessful.
Kemp ready to fight
On Monday, Kemp launched a TV commercial that argues for his first term as governor. The announcement highlights Georgia’s economic health as well as policies designed to attract Republican primary voters.
The ad touts that Kemp “backed blue, preventing the radical left from funding local police,” “passed a tough new election integrity bill” and “kept our schools and businesses open,” while ensuring the safety of Georgians “during the pandemic.
But the sunny tone of the announcement is at odds with what Kemp’s relatives say is a brutal campaign against Perdue if he challenges the governor.
Nothing, Kemp’s ally said, would be banned from pursuing Perdue and making her life “a living hell.”
“We would have the resources and we would have the motive,” said the person.
This may include targeting a series of Perdue stock trades made in January 2020 following a briefing on the then nascent coronavirus pandemic.
The clatter of Kemp’s allies only underscores just how cautious the governor’s team is in the face of impending primary combat.
Their fears are twofold: first, that Perdue might successfully challenge Kemp with Trump’s backing; and second, that Kemp survives a bitter primary fight that leaves him and the party damaged ahead of the 2022 general election, which Republicans say would be another uphill battle following Kemp’s narrow 2018 victory over Democrat. Stacey Abrams.
Adding to the stakes is the GOP struggle to regain a Senate seat from Democrat Raphael Warnock, who defeated fellow Republican Perdue Kelly Loeffler in the other runoff earlier this year.
But despite the warning signs from the Trump-led GOP in the 2020 presidential election and the 2021 second round of the Senate, Trump remains a force among Republicans in Georgia, especially those who vote in the primaries.
“David Perdue with the support of Donald Trump is dangerous,” said the second GOP agent.
Trump’s focus on Georgia
Trump has focused his anger in particular on Republicans in Georgia whom he considers disloyal following the 2020 election.
Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger received the brunt of Trump’s anger over his loss in the state by less than 12,000 votes. In a Jan. 2 phone call with Raffensperger, Trump asked the Secretary of State to “find” enough votes for Trump to make up the difference – a request the Republican of Georgia rejected. Raffensperger now faces a formidable main challenge from Representative Jody Hice, whom Trump has endorsed.
“Unlike the current Georgian Secretary of State, Jody leads the front with integrity,” Trump said in a statement in March. “Jody will stop fraud and bring honesty into our elections!”
Trump made a similar appeal to Kemp, asking in a December 2020 phone call for the governor of Georgia to summon state lawmakers to select pro-Trump voters. Kemp, who had previously approved Georgia’s electoral vote certification for Joe Biden, told Trump he had no authority to do anything to change the election results.
In response, Trump referred to Kemp as “RINO” and later said he was “ashamed” for supporting him in 2018. In an appearance in Georgia ahead of the second round of the Senate elections in January, Trump said promised to campaign against Kemp ahead of the 2022 primaries.
But Trump’s struggles to find someone who can stand up to Kemp shows how difficult it can be to face an incumbent governor, especially a governor as powerful as Georgia’s. Burt Jones, a state senator and perhaps Trump’s most ardent supporter among elected officials in Peach state, has resisted the former president’s overtures to confront Kemp. Instead, Jones shows up in an open primary for Lieutenant Governor.
Last December, Trump publicly announced that outgoing Representative Doug Collins could run for governor. But Collins, who unsuccessfully ran for the Senate in last year’s special election, announced in April that he would not be running for office in 2022.
And while former State Representative Vernon Jones (no connection to Burt Jones), who is close to many in Trump’s orbit, entered the gubernatorial race in April, Trump did not has not yet argued. A former Democrat, Jones was a regular at Trump’s campaign rallies and spoke at the Republican National Convention in 2020. He changed parties this year and has become a vocal avatar for the right wing of the Republican base.
Despite the pullout, Trump’s animosity towards Kemp has not abated.
At a rally in Georgia in September, Trump even said he would prefer Abrams, who could run for governor again next year, to take the top job instead of Kemp. Party leaders were caught off guard by the remark, but appeared unwilling to berate the former president or rally to Kemp’s side.
“I think the most notable part is the calmness of everyone in the GOP in Georgia,” Erick Erickson, an Atlanta-based radio host, told CNN at the time. “No one agrees with him. No one approves of him. But no one vocally rejects him either.”
CNN’s Manu Raju contributed to this story.