ATLANTA – In a major blow to Donald Trump’s reputation as the Republican kingmaker, the governor of Georgia. Brian Kemp defeated the former senator. David Purdue in the Republican primary for governor. The double-digit blast came despite the fact that Trump endorsed Purdue and cleared the field of other challengers, while making Kemp his only target for defeat during the primary season.
Georgia has been the subject of Trump’s obsession ever since the state lost the 2020 presidential race and launched a conspiracy-laden lobbying campaign that ultimately failed to overturn the results. Purdue’s support was the central focus of his revenge campaign, a strategy now rejected by Georgia voters.
“I want to be absolutely clear with all of you here tonight: Our fight is not over tonight,” Kemp told supporters at a victory gala in the Atlanta area late Tuesday night. “Tonight, the fight for the soul of our state begins to ensure that Stacey Abrams will not be our governor or the next president.”
Kemp’s victory will reverberate in the Republican political world, including among the 2024 presidential candidates as they continue to assess how much electoral power Trump will have in the future.
“This was the biggest political battle of Donald Trump’s midterm elections and he lost it by double digits,” Republican and Trump critic Mike Murphy told Yahoo News. “Governor Kemp has proven that a conservative with a solid record and not afraid of confrontation against Trump can not only fend off Donald, but can actually defeat the former president very badly.”
Kemp’s strong performance, leading by nearly 50 points with 33% of the projected vote, when the Associated Press called the race just 34 minutes after polls closed, means he’s avoiding a run-off with Purdue and can now focus exclusively on the rematch with the Democrat. Governor candidate Stacey Abrams, who defeated him in 2018. Abrams, who ran unopposed, won the Democratic primary today.
In another closely watched race in Georgia, Secretary of State Brad Ravensberger, another prized scalp for Trump, is leading in the primary race against the Rep. Judy Hayes. With 40% of the vote projected in, Raffensperger leads 51% to 33%. If Ravensberger finishes with more than 50% of the vote, he will be the winner. If neither candidate breaks 50%, the two will face a run-off in June. Trump had endorsed Hayes and attacked Ravensburger as an “enemy of the people” for resisting his pressure on Jan. 3. 2, 2021, phone call to “find” enough votes to annul Joe Biden’s Georgia victory.
Ravensberger arrived at an election night party at a restaurant in Norcross, an Atlanta suburb, expressing confidence he would win but saying he was fully prepared for the run-off against his Trump-backed challenger, Rep. Judy Hayes.
“I’ve been in more run-offs than anyone else in Georgia politics,” he told reporters, noting that he’s won multiple run-offs in his career, from a city council race to his 2018 victory to become Secretary of State, making him the last Republican to win a race at the state level. Ravensberger seemed to have the support of cross-votes from Democrats, as became evident when early returns showed he had more than 60 percent in Democratic-majority Fulton County, helping him barely pass the magic number of 50 percent needed to claim an outright victory. There is no party registration in Georgia, but state officials say that as many as 18 percent of the 453,942 ballots cast early in the Republican primary were from voters who had previously cast their ballots in the Democratic primary.
However, Ravensburger doubted that he was taking advantage of Democratic voters, retreating from a view that could hurt his chances if the race goes into a runoff. When asked about estimates that 18 percent of former Democratic voters have voted in the GOP primaries, Ravensberger said that total represents a significant number of traditional Republican voters who turned out to vote against Trump in 2020. “These are the Republican voters going home ” She said. Also in Georgia, former soccer star Herschel Walker easily won the primary for the Republican nomination for the US Senate. He will face the Democratic senator. Raphael Warnock, who won the seat in a special election on January 3. 2021.
But no race has been watched more closely than Kemp Perdue, because it was seen as a test of Trump’s continued control of GOP voters. Trump was fully invested in the race; He aggressively recruited the tepid Purdue to run for first place, traveled to Georgia to find him, held a fundraiser and poured $2.64 million from his political committee to support Purdue’s campaign. “If David Purdue loses, it won’t be because of Trump,” said a Trump aide, recounting how Trump worked harder for Purdue than any other candidate in this cycle.
Meanwhile, Trump obsessively trained his firepower on Kemp, who cursed him for refusing to help him overturn the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. At a rally in Georgia in March, Trump said: “Brian Kemp is a renegade, a coward who is a complete and total disaster.”
Perdue, for his part, ran almost as a one-issue candidate, repeatedly criticizing Kemp for failing to keep pace with Trump’s efforts to sabotage the 2020 presidential election.
None of that works.
While many Republicans will view Kemp’s victory as a sign that they may not have to bow to Trump or shower him with praise during their campaign, it takes political wisdom to separate yourself from Trump and it still prevails. Kemp’s campaign provides a handbook for Republican candidates.
Political observers owe Kemp to showing unyielding discipline in resisting being drawn into a fight with Trump, who has attacked him mercilessly throughout the campaign. “Kemp has never wavered toward Trump,” said Brian Robinson, a prominent Georgia Republican political activist. “You know he should have been killed inside, but the discipline paid off.”
At the same time, Kemp promoted his ultra-conservative credentials and achievements while also using the powers of the office to his advantage. According to Robinson, he checked all the boxes for every part of the Republican coalition. For gun rights advocates, Kemp pushed the constitutional bearing of arms law through the legislature. For opponents of abortion, he helped pass a bill banning abortion after the discovery of a fetal heartbeat; He was awarded two projects for the massive economic development of the state, the Rivian Electric Truck Factory and the Hyundai Car Factory. He managed to get a $500 tax credit for married couples who entered bank accounts at the same time as early voting began. (The issue of gun control came to the fore again Tuesday when at least 18 children were killed in a mass shooting at an elementary school in Texas.)
“Kemp was able to hit all the erogenous zones of Georgia Republican base voters,” Robinson said.
But not every Republican candidate will have the good fortune, office advantage, or Brian Kemp political skill set. Trump’s personality cult may have been sullied in some GOP circles, but Trumpism is still alive and well. Even those GOP candidates who were not supported by Trump or, like Kemp, targeted them for defeat, fully embraced Trump’s policy agenda and were careful not to criticize him.
Most GOP candidates who have been outspoken critics of Trump either lost their primaries or chose not to run in the first place. One example is Charlie Baker, the moderate Republican governor of Massachusetts who – despite being the most popular governor in the country with a 74 percent approval rating – chose not to run for re-election. Baker was facing the prospect of losing the Republican primary to a candidate supported by Trump.
Despite Trump’s rejection on Tuesday, the drama surrounding Trump’s efforts to cancel the 2020 presidential election in Georgia is far from over. Ravensburger said Tuesday that he is fully prepared to testify in the Fulton County District Attorney’s investigation of Fanny Willis into Trump’s efforts to nullify the results of the Georgia election when, as expected, he obtains a subpoena to do so in the coming weeks.
“We are ready to testify when and if we are called,” Ravensberger said. But there is no doubt that his refusal to acquiesce in Trump’s demands that he “find” enough votes to alter the outcome of Georgia’s election has defined him for most voters. “It was the most courageous act of a Georgia politician in my life,” said an old party friend and Republican activist who asked not to be named.
Tom Lubianco contributed reporting.