by Jill Nolin, Georgia Recorder [This article was first published in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]
March 14, 2022
Hundreds of candidates just cut a check and filed paperwork to be on the ballot in Georgia this year.
Six of them are touting the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, whose fixation with Georgia has driven a wedge within the GOP and handed Democrats a rallying point and potential opening.
Trump has endorsed in five statewide races, following through on his vow to work to defeat Gov. Brian Kemp after the governor refused to go along with Trump’s plans to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia. He has instead backed former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, whose first video ad featured Trump speaking directly into the camera about how Kemp “let us down.”
The former president has also endorsed former Democratic state Rep. Vernon Jones in an east Georgia congressional district with a heavy GOP lean.
Trump is planning to come later this month to campaign in Commerce on behalf of his slate of preferred candidates. His oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., has already stumped for Perdue in Tifton and Cumming. The former president’s involvement has political observers eying the state’s May 24 primaries as a test of Trump’s grip on the Republican party.
But some competitive Republican candidates are framing themselves as an “America First” or pro-Trump candidate even when they are up against the former president’s favored candidate.
Mike Collins, a Jackson Republican, is running to replace Congressman Jody Hice, who is the Trump-endorsed candidate for secretary of state. He pulled up to the state Capitol this week to qualify in a bright red big rig emblazed with his conservative bona fides: “Pro-life. Pro-gun. Pro-Trump.”
But Collins isn’t the Trump-endorsed candidate in the race. That candidate is former Democratic state Rep. Vernon Jones, who received Trump’s blessing shortly after exiting the governor’s race.
Collins, who is the son of a former Georgia congressman, clearly doesn’t see himself as being at a disadvantage.
“Donald Trump had (Jones) fall for the art of the deal. That’s all there was to it,” Collins told reporters Wednesday. “Vernon Jones negotiated his own way out of the governor’s race. I believe Donald Trump would have endorsed the guy to run for dog catcher if that’s what he wanted just to get rid of him.”
And then there are statewide Republican candidates, like the governor, who are trying to survive the primary while in Trump’s crosshairs.
“Look, I’ve said this about 500,000 times over the last two years: I can’t control what other people are doing in politics, whether it’s my opponent, whether it’s people that are endorsing him,” Kemp said Thursday when asked about Trump endorsing Perdue. “I’m focused on doing what Georgians want. I’m focused on making our state the greatest state in the country to live, work and raise our families.”
In the lieutenant governor’s race, Trump endorsed Jackson Republican state Sen. Burt Jones after making clear last summer he would not be backing Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller for the role. Trump condemned Miller’s “refusal to work with other Republican Senators on voter fraud and irregularities in the State.”
Miller presided over a vote on the state’s controversial election law last year after Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan boycotted the debate. Duncan, a vocal Trump critic who has urged his party to look to the future, decided not to run for another term.
Miller downplayed the significance of the endorsement last week.
“I believe that Georgians have the mindset and the ability to make their own decisions,” Miller told reporters. “And with no disrespect to anybody involved, I’m going to work hard, and things are going to go well for Butch Miller and my candidacy.”
Trump has also endorsed former University of Georgia star running back Herschel Walker for U.S. Senate, who is the frontrunner in the GOP primary to decide who will challenge U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock in the fall.
Trump backed Georgia Congressman Jody Hice for Secretary of State after the incumbent, Brad Raffensperger, drew his ire. Trump’s insistence that Raffensperger “find” the votes needed to change the election outcome is under investigation by the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office.
And then late Friday, Trump endorsed Patrick Witt for state insurance commissioner. Witt, who assisted with Trump’s legal effort to reverse the 2020 election results, has challenged Commissioner John King, who was appointed by the governor.
The 2020 election is still a big issue for many conservative voters. No evidence has been produced to support Trump’s claim that the election was rigged, but a January ABC News/Ipsos poll found 71% of Republicans say they believe Trump was the rightful winner.
“It’s a very important issue for Republican voters, not just here in Georgia, but across the country,” said Georgia Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, a scion of the Trump movement. “They really feel like there was a lot of election fraud in the 2020 election. I believe that myself. That’s why I objected on Jan. 6 to Joe Biden’s Electoral College votes, but I think it is something that’s important to them, and President Trump’s endorsement, it’s pretty heavy, carries a lot of weight.”
Greene, who was endorsed by Trump in 2020, spoke with the Recorder after a Georgia Faith and Freedom Coalition event in January. At the same event, Walker placed less emphasis on Trump’s role and said conservative Georgians are more concerned about the status quo under Biden.
“The biggest key is what happened in this administration, you see all the things that are happening right now, inflation the way it is, crime the way it is, and different things they are saying,” he said. “I think that’s the problem is all the things that are happening now.”
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