The Primary in Georgia and a Test of Trump’s Hold on the GOP
Georgia is the newest swing state in the country, where Republicans control the state government top to bottom but Democrats nevertheless hold both Senate seats and managed to eke out a win of the state’s 16 presidential electors in 2020. It’s a state with a political identity crisis, having given us both national voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams, who is unopposed for the Democratic nomination in the race for governor, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the QAnon extremist and staunch Trump ally. Several races in this week’s primary election tell a story of contradiction and the possible limits of former President Trump’s influence.
The Governor’s Race
The state is a hotbed for conspiracy theories over the 2020 election, and GOP candidate David Perdue sought to make that a center of his messaging and platform. That move endeared him to former President Trump and earned him a coveted endorsement over incumbent Brian Kemp, who declared the 2020 election free and fairly won by Biden yet still actively worked to undermine voting rights across the state in the name of increased “election security.”
But in 2022, election fraud isn’t resonating so well with voters, and Trump’s endorsement isn’t the magic bullet Perdue had hoped. Kemp is widely expected to trounce Perdue in the primary, which may explain why Perdue launched a blatantly racist attack upon Stacey Abrams on Monday. Speaking to an overwhelmingly white crowd, Perdue said, “Did you all see what Stacey said this weekend? She said that Georgia is the worst place in the country to live. Hey, she ain’t from here. Let her go back to where she came from. She doesn’t like it here.”
Abrams simply had pointed out in a tweet that Georgia ranked 1st in the nation on maternal mortality and 48th in the nation on mental health. Contrary to Perdue’s insinuation, Abrams also has lived in Georgia ever since high school. His desperation nevertheless was evident when he also said on Monday of Abrams, “When she told Black farmers, ‘You don’t need to be on the farm,’ and she told Black workers in hospitality and all this, ‘You don’t need to be,’ she is demeaning her own race when it comes to that. I am really over this. She should never be considered material for governor of any state, much less our state where she hates to live.”
Kemp’s strength in the race has brought in late support from other quarters, including a visit and rally on Monday by former Vice President Mike Pence, who is exploring a presidential run in 2024. The speech by Pence, in which he said a vote for Kemp is a vote for the future, was seen by many as an implicit rebuke to Trump, who held a dueling rally for his candidate Perdue on Monday.
The Senate Race
Trump’s other endorsed candidate, Republican Herschel Walker, is expected to cruise to victory in his Senate primary. The fact that Walker is African American while Trump’s other endorsed candidate makes racist appeals to the MAGA base underscores the often contradictory and shifting political landscape in Georgia. Privately, GOP insiders worry that Walker, who already has a history of mental illness and violent threats towards women, is too extreme for a state that is trending bluer. Walker recently announced, for example, that he opposes abortion in all instances, without exception for pregnancies from rape or incest or where the life of the mother is at risk.
Walker is hoping to best incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock, who is also African American, in November’s general election. Warnock and Abrams will present a unified Democratic ticket of sorts that could energize and mobilize the Democratic base, particularly Black voters and women. If they are successful, they could help hold both the slim Democratic Senate majority in Congress and help ensure election integrity and abortion rights for Georgians.
The…Secretary of State Race?
While in most elections few people care who is running for the normally boring, administrative position of Secretary of State, in Georgia in 2022 the race actually matters a great deal. The state was a tipping point for the 2020 election, but the Republican-controlled secretary of state’s office refused to entertain election conspiracies at the time. That earned the incumbent Brad Raffensperger a primary challenge from Rep. Jody Hice, a Republican congressmember backed by Trump. Hice hopes to unseat Raffensperger, whom Trump himself infamously called in December of 2020 asking him to “find” 11,700 votes—just one more than he needed to flip the state to Trump. That call, along with the concerted efforts of Rudy Giuliani, Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, and other Trump allies, is now the focus of a grand jury investigation launched by the District Attorney of Fulton County, Fani Willis, which will wait until June, after the primaries are over, before commencing its work.
Hice is one among many GOP candidates looking to replace secretaries of state in key swing states in order to have their fingers on the scales when it comes to ballot counting and vote certification in 2024. Trump-backed challengers in two other closely watched swing state races in Arizona and Michigan are also well-known conspiracy theorists who do not accept the outcome of the 2020 election. The secretary of state’s race in Georgia likely will go into a run-off, where Hice may enjoy an advantage with motivated, far-right voters.