Atlanta: Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia has easily dispatched Donald Trump’s hand-picked challenger in a Republican primary that demonstrated the limits of the former president and his conspiracy-fuelled politics in a critical swing state.
Kemp will face Democrat Stacey Abrams this fall in what will be one of the nation’s most consequential governor’s races.
Brian Kemp, governor of Georgia, speaks during an Election Night Party in Atlanta, Georgia. Credit:Bloomberg
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who was a top target of former President Donald Trump, won his Republican primary.
Raffensperger beat three challengers, including Trump-endorsed congressman Jody Hice, who had criticised his handling of the 2020 election.
Raffensperger was among Trump’s chief targets when the former president turned his wrath on top Georgia officials for not taking steps to overturn his narrow election loss to Democrat Joe Biden in the state. Trump insisted without proof that victory had been stolen from him through widespread voter fraud.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, grabs a glass of champagne to toast with his wife Tricia after declaring victory. Credit:AP
In a now-notorious January 2021 phone call, Trump suggested Raffensperger could “find” enough votes to overturn President Biden’s victory. That led a prosecutor in Atlanta to open an investigation into whether Trump and others tried to illegally influence the state’s election. That investigation is ongoing.
Hice embraced false claims about the 2020 election being stolen and objected to Georgia’s electoral votes being counted for Biden.
The results served as a stinging rebuke of Trump in a race that he prioritised above almost all others. Angered by Kemp’s refusal to go along with his extraordinary effort to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia, Trump personally recruited former Senator David Perdue to challenge the sitting governor. He also helped clear the primary field and spent more than $US3 million ($4.22 million) on the failed effort.
“Even in the middle of a tough primary, conservatives across our state didn’t listen to the noise. They didn’t get distracted,” Kemp told cheering supporters, before calling on his party to rally behind his campaign.
In defeat, Perdue struck a unifying tone that has become increasingly rare in a Republican Party dominated by Trump’s hardline tactics.
“I want you to know tonight that I am fully supporting Brian Kemp in his run to beat Stacey Abrams,” Perdue said. “It’s emotional for all of us, we’re disappointed, I get that. Let’s take a few hours, lick our wounds, and tomorrow morning, you’re going to hear me going to work for Brian Kemp to make damn sure that Stacey Abrams is never governor of Georgia.”
In all, five states were voting Tuesday, including Alabama, Arkansas, Texas and Minnesota. But none had been more consumed than Georgia by Trump and his lie that the 2020 election was stolen.
Perdue’s loss becomes the latest example of a primary setback for Trump’s preferred candidates, who have lost governor’s races in Idaho and Nebraska. A Pennsylvania Senate primary is too close to call a week after the election.
Still, the totality of Tuesday’s contests underscored the sustained power of Trumpism in Republican politics 18 months after he was voted out of office. His preferred Senate candidate in Georgia, Herschel Walker, easily won the Republican nomination despite warnings from Walker’s competitors about his history of domestic violence and mental health struggles. He will face Democratic incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock in the fall in a race that could determine control of the chamber.
And former Trump White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who was the face of an administration that contributed to the nation’s stark divide, won the Republican governor’s nomination in Arkansas.
Sensing Kemp’s strength in Georgia, however, other prominent Republicans had grown increasingly willing to defy the former president.
Trump’s own vice president, Mike Pence, rallied with Kemp in the Atlanta suburbs on Monday evening. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who also campaigned for Kemp and has been critical of Trump, described his victory as “enormous”.
“I am so proud of and happy for my friend — and just as importantly for the Georgia GOP and the people of Georgia,” Christie tweeted. “They were not going to kick out a great Governor or be willing participants in the DJT Vendetta Tour.”
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