Trump’s pick in Georgia GOP primary routed by Gov. Brian Kemp; his foe Raffensperger survives
Tuesday’s primary elections featured the inaugural stop in former President Trump’s 2020 revenge tour — the first opportunities he’s had to unseat Republicans whom he considers disloyal for refusing to acquiesce in his baseless fraud claims.
But it was clear early on that his hopes of retribution had fallen flat, most strikingly in his goal to oust incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia. The former president personally recruited Kemp’s challenger, former Sen. David Perdue, and donated millions to prop up his pick. But Kemp won a convincing victory that was called just 90 minutes after the polls closed.
Two other GOP state officials who rejected Trump’s efforts to subvert the election results — Georgia Atty. Gen. Chris Carr and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger — also fended off challenges from those backed by the former president. Raffensperger was considered the most vulnerable of the three, but he cleared the threshold to avoid a runoff against Rep. Jody Hice, a vocal proponent of 2020 election lies.
Other candidates pushed by Trump, including football legend Herschel Walker in the Senate primary in Georgia, fared far better. After a busy night of midterm primary action, here’s what you need to know.
Winning over Trump voters despite Trump
For most of last year, Trump confidently predicted that Kemp’s political future was finished, promising at one point “the MAGA base — which is enormous — will never vote for him.”
Instead, Kemp has proved it’s possible to win over Trump loyalists without Trump. The power of being an incumbent governor has been key. Kemp signed a number of bills reflecting conservative priorities, including new voting restrictions, enabling residents to carry handguns without a background check or license, and limiting discussion about race in classrooms.
Idaho, where the governor faces a fellow Republican, is among places Trump’s endorsement falls flat.
An April Morning Consult poll found that half of all Georgia voters, including 76% of the state’s Republicans, thought Kemp was doing a good job. That kind of job approval explains how Kemp secured the backing of many in Georgia’s political establishment, as well as national Republicans increasingly willing to defy Trump, including former Vice President Mike Pence.
Perdue, meanwhile, found little momentum in his main election issue: asserting falsely that Trump won the 2020 presidential race. He spent the closing days not claiming he would win, but only that he was not losing as badly as polls suggest. He ended up doing worse.
An election grudge down-ballot
Secretary of state races usually get little national attention. Not so after 2020, with Trump paying special attention to the position that is crucial for election administration. Trump was particularly fixated on Raffensperger, who refused to overturn the presidential election despite pressure from the then-president. Raffensperger didn’t enjoy the same advantages of the incumbency as Kemp, since the position gave him fewer opportunities to mend fences with conservatives.
Polls during the campaign showed a tight battle between him and Hice, who staked out the polar opposite position on the 2020 presidential race. He voted last year against certifying the results of the 2020 presidential race and was involved in discussions designed to pressure Pence to throw out disputed electoral votes, according to testimony collected by the congressional investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
Raffensperger was, in Trump’s words, doing “an absolutely terrible job” in ensuring fraud-free elections. But Georgia Republicans disagreed. Raffensperger won the majority of counties in the state and performed especially well in the vote-rich Atlanta suburbs.
Setting the stage for November
How’s this for an attention-getting trifecta: Stacey Abrams, Herschel Walker, Sen. Raphael Warnock. Tuesday’s election sets up a blockbuster general election in Georgia featuring these national figures.
Abrams, who easily clinched the Democratic nomination for governor, is facing a rematch of her 2018 campaign against Kemp. Abrams’ profile has only grown since her narrow loss four years ago, especially as the fruits of her years of organizing helped turn Georgia blue in 2020. But the headwinds are far stiffer for Democrats this year; early polls have shown Kemp with an advantage, although their head-to-head matchup has not yet begun in earnest.
The race for U.S. Senate will pit a Georgia football legend against the state’s political trailblazer. Both Warnock and Walker easily clinched their respective parties’ nominations Tuesday.
Walker, best known for his Heisman Trophy-winning days at the University of Georgia and subsequent NFL career, got an early nod from Trump, his former “Celebrity Apprentice” mentor. He also won over Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, who was impressed enough by Walker’s fundraising ability to put aside concerns about his electability.
Former President Trump uses primary endorsements to seek revenge, push election fraud lies and shape the Republican Party. How are his candidates faring?
But Warnock is unlikely to let Walker off the hook for various troubles in his past, including allegations of domestic violence and threatening behavior against women, as well as turbulent business dealings. The first Black senator elected from Georgia, Warnock is the top fundraiser in Congress as he strives to win his first full term. Republicans, meanwhile, have raised scrutiny of Warnock’s custody battle with his ex-wife, a sign that both sides are girding for a bruising election.
Battle in the ’burbs
Georgia would have not become a hotly contested swing state if not for the suburbs. The counties surrounding Atlanta have been diversifying and increasingly electing Democrats, including Rep. Lucy McBath in 2018 and Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux two years later.
But Republicans controlled the redistricting process last year, and they redrew one suburban district to ensure it would tilt more solidly red. That left the two incumbent Democrats vying for the other, bluer seat.
Though Bourdeaux’s current seat more closely aligns with the new district lines, McBath emerged victorious. A national figure because of her gun safety activism — which she began after her son Jordan was killed — her win had sad resonance, coming hours after the news of a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
The battle reflects the new redistricting reality: In starkly partisan districts, the real contest is between members of the same party, not the general election. McBath will be the heavy favorite in November.
An unusual ‘un-endorsement’
If a Trump endorsement can breathe new life into a campaign, a Trump “un-endorsement” was widely expected to be a death knell for Rep. Mo Brooks’ campaign to be Alabama’s next senator.
Maybe not. Brooks secured a spot in a runoff, finishing second behind Katie Britt, a former chief of staff to retiring Sen. Richard Shelby.
Brooks, an ardent 2020 election denier, won Trump’s backing nearly a year before Alabamians went to the polls. But Trump rescinded his support in March, complaining the congressman had “gone woke” because he acknowledged there was no pathway to immediately reinstate Trump as president.
Most political observers thought the unspoken reason for Trump’s about-face was Brooks’ sluggish campaign, which was being outpaced by Britt and Mike Durant, a businessman and former military helicopter pilot who was shot down nearly 30 years ago in the “Black Hawk Down” incident in Somalia.
But polls in the waning days showed that Brooks’ campaign still had some life in it.
Mixed bag for political heirs
Trump waded into a pair of races pertaining to high-profile political dynasties. In Arkansas, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s former White House press secretary, secured the GOP gubernatorial endorsement, seeking to follow in the footsteps of her father, former Gov. Mike Huckabee.
In Texas, Trump’s pick bested a scion of the Bush clan, a well-known name in the state. Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton easily surpassed George P. Bush, the state’s land commissioner, in a runoff as he pursues a third term.
Bush had sought Trump’s backing, despite the former president’s feuding with Jeb Bush, his father. But Paxton, who was indicted seven years ago for securities fraud but has yet to stand trial, cemented his status as one of Trump’s most loyal backers when he filed a long-shot (and unsuccessful) lawsuit challenging the results of the 2020 election.
Democratic showdown on the border
The perpetual intraparty tug of war between the flanks of the Democratic Party came to Texas, where progressive candidate Jessica Cisneros is trying for a second time to oust centrist incumbent Rep. Henry Cuellar.
Cuellar narrowly outpaced Cisneros in their March matchup, but neither candidate got enough votes to avoid Tuesday’s runoff.
The race remained too close to call late Tuesday evening.
The contest had long been seen as a face-off between the poles of the Democratic Party. But the contrasts sharpened even further after the leak of a draft Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe vs. Wade. Cuellar, one of the few antiabortion members left in the party, was soon assailed by Cisneros for his position.
While Cisneros has campaigned with the left’s most prominent stars, Cuellar has denounced her as too far left for this majority-Latino district. With Democrats openly fretting about how to appeal to moderates, as well as about their slipping numbers among Latinos, they’re closely watching the outcome in Texas.
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