by Ross Williams, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]
May 25, 2022
Tuesday night was a disappointment for most of former President Donald Trump’s endorsed Republican candidates in Georgia’s statewide races.
Herschel Walker, a former UGA football star and Trump surrogate in Georgia, ran away with a primary win and is set for general election fight against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. But Gov. Brian Kemp, the former president’s best frenemy, easily defeated former Sen. David Perdue for the Republican’s right to a rematch with Democrat Stacey Abrams this fall.
Trump is credited with propelling Kemp past then-Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle to secure the Republican nomination in 2018. But Kemp became one of Trump’s favorite targets after he refused to help overturn the 2020 election results.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, another major target of Trump ire following the election, dodged a runoff against Trump-backed Jody Hice, a former Republican Congressman who ran on a platform of election conspiracy theories.
Raffensperger, who refused Trump’s request to find additional votes in a now-famous phone call, reportedly received death threats in the aftermath of the 2020 vote, but he is now clear to seek another term against a Democratic challenger who still must survive a runoff.
Attorney General Chris Carr easily fended off a late bid from Trump-backed challenger John Gordon, an attorney involved with Trump’s legal attempts to overturn the 2020 election Joe Biden won. With about 95% of the vote counted, Carr won nearly 75% of the vote and is poised to face Democratic nominee Jen Jordan, an attorney and state senator from Atlanta.
In an exceedingly rare move for a former president, Trump made an endorsement for the state insurance commissioner, backing attorney Patrick Witt against incumbent John King, but King appeared to manage an easy win with more than 70% of votes.
A few hand-picked candidates Trump fared better.
As of early Wednesday, Trump’s favorite for lieutenant governor, state Sen. Burt Jones led fellow Republican state Sen. Butch Miller with 50.1% of the vote to Miller’s 31.1%, but votes were still being counted.
Two Trump favorites for Congress with little political experience face uphill runoffs.
In Congressional District 6, which was newly drawn to favor a Republican candidate, Jake Evans, the son of Trump’s former ambassador to Luxembourg, is set to go to a runoff with former Congressman Rich McCormick, according to the Associated Press. As of midnight, McCormick had about 44.5% of the vote to Evans’ 23%, with half of districts reporting.
Former Democratic state Rep. Vernon Jones, Trump’s pick for east Georgia’s District 10, appears to be in a similar boat. As of midnight, he trailed Mike Collins, the owner of a trucking company, with 89% of precincts reporting, Collins had 25.59% of the vote to Jones’ 21.57%.
Jones originally was a candidate for governor, but decided to run for Congress, reportedly at Trump’s request to make room for Perdue to run for governor against Kemp.
Republican voters at Georgia’s polling places had mixed feelings about the former president.
Rural Gordon County is the type of place where Republican candidates hope to have a solid base of support – it’s represented by conservative stalwart Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene and gave Trump more than 80% of the vote in 2020.
But voters at the Soronaville Community Center outside Calhoun said Trump’s endorsement isn’t everything.
Keith Cochran, who works in city government, said he voted for Kemp because he likes the way he’s run the state over the last four years, citing the recent fuel tax cut and school COVID-19 policies. He’s also a dyed-in-the-wool fan of Greene.
“Oh, I just love her. I wish she’d run for president,” he said. “She’s honest. And she’s for the people.”
Trump’s endorsement matters, but not more than what he’s seen with his own eyes.
“(Trump) is a nut, but I think he’s for the people also,” he said. “On the other hand, Biden, he’s giving money away, so we like that, but somebody’s got to pay the price.”
“I take what he says with a grain of salt,” he added.
Others said they have grown disillusioned with Trump following his presidency.
“His endorsement don’t mean nothing to me,” said truck driver Greg Hendrix. “I mean, Trump done good while he was president, but from the election on, he showed us what type of person he was, and I don’t need nobody like that representing our country.”
Hendrix also cast his ballot for Raffensperger, who he credited with standing up to Trump’s “bullying” after the election, and for Herschel Walker, albeit reluctantly. He said Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black would have been his first choice, but he felt Walker’s star power gives him a better shot at beating Sen. Raphael Warnock.
Terry Trivette, an insurance salesman and pastor, acknowledged he is in the minority in his community, but said he is fed up with the Trump wing of his party, adding that he would “write in Mary Poppins” before voting for Greene.
“I’m a conservative,” he said. “I’m a libertarian in a lot of ways, but I’m a conservative when it comes to policy, I’m conservative, I’m just not what this is. This is not conservatism. This is populism, and I don’t like it. It’s brainwashing. So I went with Miss (Jennifer) Strahan, who I think is a sensible candidate, but I don’t know. This woman’s got a stronghold on us too.”
“If you said God and guns enough,” he added with a shrug.
About 80 miles to the southeast, some Gwinnett Republicans expressed similar concerns.
Loganville resident Doug Hall says he was a reliable GOP voter before the 2020 election, when he cast his ballot for President Joe Biden. But he pulled a Republican ballot Tuesday and sought out the candidates who had not received Trump’s blessing, including Black.
Hall said he hopes Georgia voters send a message during a primary that has been closely watched as a referendum on Trump’s lingering power over the national GOP.
“He is not the Republican Party that I want to be affiliated with – at all,” Hall said after voting at the South Gwinnett Baptist Church. “He’s eroded our sense of democracy.”
“I’m not happy with what (Biden’s) done, but we couldn’t keep going down that road (with Trump),” Hall said. “We just couldn’t, so now I’m back to the Republican Party and trying to weed this cancer out of it. Because that’s what it is to me.”
Another Loganville resident who typically votes Republican, Holly Eck, also said she mostly steered clear of Trump-endorsed candidates like Jones.
“I just think he’s an idiot, to say it plainly,” Eck said of Trump.
Looking to November
A voter’s personal opinion appears to be more important than the Trump seal of approval in Georgia, said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock.
“What it suggests is that Trump’s influence is going to be muted by a person who has a record,” Bullock said. “And Kemp, with his four years as governor and everything that has been passed by his administration, that counts for something, whereas an open seat, which Kemp was running for four years ago, the Trump endorsement did make a lot of impact there.”
Trump also issued several endorsements for incumbent Republicans including Greene who were nearly certainly set to win regardless, including some who had no primary opponents.
“Of course, he’ll take full credit for it and brag about it,” Bullock said. “But in reality, what we’re seeing, at least in Georgia, is that simply because Trump smiles at you and gives you his backing, it’s not the be-all-end-all.”
In his concession speech, Perdue pledged to give Kemp his full support against Abrams, but whether Trump does the same is another question. Many blame Trump and his claims of election fraud for depressing Republican turnout in the January 2021 runoffs that sent Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to the Senate, tipping the balance of power to their party.
“I think Trump may well do that, because Trump is not really interested in building the Republican Party, he’s interested in building a Trump party,” Bullock said. “Therefore, I’m not sure he’ll ever get behind Kemp. If Trump follows that pattern it could cost Kemp, and cost him dearly, potentially, in that it might induce enough Republicans to – not that they would vote for Stacey Abrams – but to skip over Kemp, in which case, you might see a replay of that January 2021 federal election, where I think Trump probably went a long way toward costing Republicans those two senate seats.”
Georgia Recorder Deputy Editor contributed to this report.
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