Brian Kemp, fortified by incumbency against Trump attacks, eyes easy win in Georgia’s GOP primary

Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia leaned into the power of incumbency to take the sting out of former Sen. David Perdue’s primary challenge and former President Donald Trump’s unrelenting attacks.

Mr. Kemp is closing out his campaign with a bill-signing bonanza that brandished his conservative bona fides while awarding millions in federal grants and extolling the virtues of economic development projects on the horizon.

It is a luxury that a lot of Republicans lack in their campaigns against Trump-backed candidates in races across the country.

“It is about the power of incumbency,” said David Johnson, a Georgia-based GOP strategist. “Kemp was able with this last legislative session to get passed items that conservatives loved, and he was proven right about reopening the economy during COVID, and a lot of the business community see him as a safe choice.”

He also said that Mr. Trump underestimated Mr. Kemp.

“Kemp has a strong base he built running as secretary of state and governor,” he said.

Mr. Kemp is taking another victory lap on Friday celebrating what is billed as a blockbuster deal to bring a Hyundai electric car factory and thousands of jobs to southeast Georgia. 

Then, on the eve of the election Tuesday, he plans to join forces with former Vice President Mike Pence at a get-out-the-vote rally.

It all follows a series of high-profile, bill-signing ceremonies on taxes, guns and parental rights that earned Mr. Kemp tons of news coverage, thrusting him into living rooms across the state and helping solidify his support among Republicans and conservative activists.

“Governor Kemp is proud to have fulfilled his promises to the people of Georgia,” said Kemp campaign spokesperson Tate Mitchell. “Under his leadership, unemployment is at its lowest point in state history, job creation has hit record highs, parents are in charge of their kids’ health and education, and Georgians have a leader that will fight for their values.”

Mr. Perdue, who lost his Senate seat to Democrat Jon Ossoff in 2020, has struggled to find an opening in the race.

The former senator has tried to make gains by pledging to abolish the state income tax and knocking Mr. Kemp for ignoring the will of the people by supporting a proposed electric truck plant east of Atlanta.

Mr. Perdue also is boasting about Mr. Trump’s support and embracing the stolen election claims that Mr. Kemp dismissed.

In a last-ditch effort to boost his bid, Mr. Perdue will campaign Monday with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the one-time GOP vice presidential nominee who is seeking an open congressional seat in her home state. Mrs. Palin, like Mr. Perdue, is running as a full-fledged supporter of Mr. Trump and his fraudulent election claims.

Mr. Perdue’s prospects look grim. A recent Fox News poll showed him trailing Mr. Kemp by a more than 30-point margin, 60% to 28%, in the GOP primary. 

The other Republicans in the race, Kandiss Taylor and Catherine Davis, are in the single digits.

Mr. Kemp needs to win more than 50% of the vote in the primary to avoid a runoff.

On the Democratic side, voting rights activists and former Georgia state Rep. Stacey Abrams is running unopposed for her party’s gubernatorial nomination.

It’s her second run for governor. Mr. Kemp defeated her in the 2018 election. She never conceded, although she recognized Mr. Kemp as the “legal” governor.

In the state’s other primary races, football legend Herschel Walker is expected to cruise to victory in the GOP Senate nominating race with the help of Mr. Trump’s support.

Mr. Walker would face incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, in what is shaping up to be a marquee 2022 race that could decide which party controls the upper chamber. 

Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who has felt the brunt of Mr. Trump’s stolen election attacks, is running in a competitive race against Rep. Jody Hice, who has Mr. Trump’s support.

Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux and Lucy McBath, meanwhile, are competing for the Democratic nomination in the newly drawn 7th Congressional District.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a firebrand Republican who has been a magnet for news coverage and Democratic attacks, is looking to avoid a runoff race in Georgia’s 14th Congressional District. Some in the GOP are also hoping Jennifer Strahan can unseat the controversial lawmaker.

Voters on Tuesday will also head to the polls in Alabama, Arkansas and Texas, where George P. Bush is running an underdog big to unseat Trump-backed Ken Paxon in the attorney general’s race.

In Texas’ 28th Congressional District, Rep. Henry Cuellar is fighting for his political life in a tight runoff race against progressive favorite Jessica Cisneros 

Mr. Trump’s influence on the 2020 GOP primary election cycle has been evident in races across the country. 

He boosted J.D. Vance in the Ohio Senate primary and Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania’s GOP Senate primary, where the celebrity doctor holds a slim lead over former hedge fund manager David McCormick.

Gov. Brad Little of Idaho, however, survived a challenge from a Trump-backed challenger, underscoring the difficulty Mr. Trump has had so far dislodging sitting GOP governors.

Jeffrey Lazarus, a political science professor at Georgia State University, said a case could be made that governors benefit from incumbency more than candidates holding other public offices.

“Governors have their hands directly on the machinery of government in ways that members of Congress don’t,” Mr. Lazarus said. “So it is really easy for a governor to time these things to coincide with an election in ways that are not as easy for a member of Congress to do.”

Mr. Lazarus pointed to Mr. Kemp’s recent announcement of $415 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds from the American Rescue Plan, which ironically passed out of Congress without any Republican support. Plus, he noted Mr. Kemp’s decision to sign off on raises for teachers and school workers.

“It is even a bit of a joke down here that teachers can always count on a big salary raise during an election year,” Mr. Lazarus said. “You can set your clock to it.”

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