Pence and Trump hold competing rallies to boost rival Georgia GOP campaigns

Former Vice President Mike Pence and Gov. Brian Kemp. Ross Williams/Georgia RecorderFormer Vice President Mike Pence and Gov. Brian Kemp. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

by Jill Nolin, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]
May 24, 2022

Georgians will head to the polls Tuesday for the last day of voting in a primary election that is doubling as a proxy battle for the future of the national Republican party.

Election eve brought split-screen campaigning as former Vice President Mike Pence stumped for Gov. Brian Kemp inside a Cobb County airport hangar. Shortly after Pence walked off the stage, former President Donald Trump held a more scaled down show of support for Kemp’s challenger, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, during an 8-minute tele-rally.

“Elections are about choices, and tomorrow’s primary election comes down to this: Who is best positioned to defeat Stacey Abrams and the national Democrats who will descend on Georgia in this fall’s election,” Pence said Monday.

“I did hear that Stacey Abrams recently played the role of president on the new Star Trek series,” Pence said. “Well, my fellow Republicans, we’ve got to make sure that’s the closest Stacey Abrams ever gets to holding that title. And it starts by making sure Stacey Abrams is never governor of the great state of Georgia.”

The former vice president’s Monday visit was meant to help rally Kemp supporters to the polls on Election Day. But his return to Georgia politics also underscored the deep division within the national party as the 2024 presidential election looms on the horizon. Pence hasn’t ruled out a potential run for the White House.

Georgia’s closely watched primaries are widely seen as a referendum on Trump’s enduring grip on the party. Trump has waded well into Georgia politics, endorsing 13 primary candidates; his Save America PAC has given at least $500,000 to an anti-Kemp super PAC.

Trump has been fixated with Georgia ever since the state narrowly backed President Joe Biden in 2020, and he zeroed in on Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger when they refused to help overturn the election results. He also backed Raffensperger’s primary challenger, U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, who objected to the 2020 election results.

“Brian Kemp is truly an embarrassment to the Republican Party because of what’s taken place in your great state of Georgia,” Trump said during the tele-rally Monday.

Perdue has said plainly in recent debates that he believes the 2020 presidential election was “rigged and stolen” and has centered his campaign on Trump’s support.

But Perdue heads into Tuesday lagging far behind in recent polls, which suggest Kemp could win the race outright Tuesday. If there’s a runoff, it will be held June 21.

Whoever wins will go on to face Abrams, who fell short by just 55,000 votes in 2018, as Georgia Democrats hope to build on the ballot-box successes that helped elect Biden and flipped two U.S. Senate seats, tilting control of the chamber to Democrats.

“We’re ready to show everyone that it wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t just about one election cycle. And it wasn’t about Donald Trump,” said U.S. Congresswoman Nikema Williams, who is also the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia.

Abrams seized on Pence’s visit to highlight a key part of her platform: “Even Mike Pence expanded Medicaid in Indiana. Yet, Brian Kemp refuses to expand Medicaid in Georgia. Why? Because #KempDoesntCare,” Abrams tweeted.

‘I’m not mad at him’

The governor had planned to spend the final day of campaigning crisscrossing the state by plane with stops in Dalton, Columbus, Macon, Albany and Augusta. But he settled for a virtual press conference with reporters due to inclement weather.

Fresh polling shows Kemp with a strong lead over Perdue going into Election Day. A Landmark Communications survey reported a 30-point gap between the two with Kemp attracting 60% support. That mirrors a Fox News poll that came out last week.

A separate poll, this one from Fox 5 Atlanta, found Kemp with 52% support. Candidates need 50% of the vote to avoid a runoff in Georgia.

“I just want to remind everybody out there, hey, let’s get the vote out. Don’t believe the polls. The only poll that matters and the only poll that counts is a poll of the voters on election day,” Kemp told reporters.

Perdue railed against the unfavorable polling Monday at a press conference in Dunwoody where he was combative with reporters. He specifically called the Fox News survey a “suppression poll” that likely missed inconsistent voters who have contributed to the record turnout during early voting.

“That’s why that poll was full of crap,” he said.

And when asked if he would accept the results of Tuesday’s election, Perdue quickly shot back: “Depends on if there’s fraud or not.”

Perdue has argued Kemp’s reelection bid is doomed because he says Trump’s support is essential to rally enough Republicans to the voting booth to beat Abrams in the fall.

The governor has campaigned on his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as a spate of base-pleasing bills that he has signed into law, like one eliminating the requirement to have a permit to carry a concealed firearm.

And he’s tried to downplay any split within the Republican Party in the wake of the Trump presidency.

“I wouldn’t tell people to read too much into that,” Kemp told reporters Monday. “I’ve had a great relationship with Mike Pence. I had a great relationship with President Trump. I’ve never said anything bad about him. I don’t plan on doing that,” Kemp said Monday morning.

“I’m not mad at him. I think he’s just mad at me, and that’s something that I can’t control,” he added.

Georgia Recorder senior reporter Stanley Dunlap contributed to this report.

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