Trump and Pence take separate sides in Georgia gubernatorial primary

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The country’s 45th president, Donald Trump, and his onetime partner in government, Mike Pence, held dueling events Monday night for their favorite candidates ahead of Georgia’s highly anticipated Republican gubernatorial primary, in what could presage a possible fight over the future of the Republican Party. .

Dramatically breaking up with his former boss, Pence held a spirited rally with Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R) on the eve of an election the governor is expected to win. Trump, meanwhile, appeared at a tele-town hall with the man he recruited to unseat Kemp, whom he blames for not working feverishly enough to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election there: former Sen. David Perdue (R) .

The former vice president appeared with the governor at an airport hangar in Kennesaw, where a black bus emblazoned with a Kemp logo entered through a large side door and country lyrics like “it’s harvest time” echoed as the men posed for photos with supporters.

“When you say yes to Brian Kemp tomorrow, you will send a deafening message to the entire United States that the Republican Party is the party of the future,” Pence told the crowd.

Pence praised much of the Trump administration’s agenda, and even Kemp praised Trump. Neither mentioned Perdue by name, instead focusing their anger on likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, in a sign that the primary was almost over, according to observers and polls.

Instead, Kemp bragged about his reopening of Georgia before others during the coronavirus pandemic, against the guidance of federal officials, and about some of his other moves, like suspending the state gas tax. Pence briefly mentioned the 2020 election, but largely focused on other issues.

Pence did not respond to questions about Trump as he left the event.

Meanwhile, Trump took aim at Kemp — and Abrams — at Perdue City Hall.

“David is the only candidate who can beat Stacey Abrams, because I don’t think Kemp can. He has too many people in the GOP who will refuse to vote,” Trump said. He attacked Kemp again over the 2020 election. Perdue, for her part, said Abrams was “degrading her own race” and should leave Georgia.

“He said that Georgia is the worst place in the country to live. Hey, she’s not from here. Let her go back to where she came from. She doesn’t like being here,” Perdue said.

The symbolism of the split screen was marked between a once obsequious vice president and Trump. The two men have not spoken in nearly a year, and Trump has criticized Pence for not doing more to overturn the 2020 election results. Meanwhile, Pence has at times criticized Trump’s comments on 2020, privately noting that he could run in 2024, even against Trump.

If Kemp wins on Tuesday as expected, it would be a significant setback for Trump, who goaded a reluctant Perdue into running against him, political observers say. Fueled by anger at Kemp for failing to help him nullify the election, Trump insulted the governor for months, organized political opposition against him and held an earlier rally in Georgia on Perdue’s behalf. Trump’s political clout will also be tested in two other races: the Senate race, where former NFL star Herschel Walker is expected to win the GOP nod to take on Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) ; and the race for Secretary of State between Brad Raffensperger and Trump’s pick, Rep. Jody Hice (right).

That no one has explicitly criticized Trump reflects that he remains the most influential Republican in the country and has significant influence over his party base, political strategists said. Kemp has repeatedly refused to say anything negative about Trump.

“I had a great relationship with President Trump,” Kemp said during a virtual news conference on Monday. “I have never said anything bad about him. I don’t plan to do that. I’m not mad at him. I think he’s just mad at me. And that’s something I can’t control.”

In interviews with a dozen voters at Kemp’s rally Monday night, all rejected Trump’s criticism of Kemp, saying they had grown increasingly bitter toward the former president because of his moves in the state.

Barry Schrenk, a 79-year-old Atlanta resident, said he recently had breakfast with six friends, all of whom were Republicans and voted for Trump. But Schrenk’s friends also appear to be rooting for Kemp, whom he described as an “outstanding governor” who opened up the state “shortly after the Covid hit,” which he said “turned out to be the right call.”

“Everyone voted for Trump and said he was a good president, but he shouldn’t get into this,” Schrenk said, referring to the Georgia gubernatorial race. “Everyone at the table said they would now vote for anyone Trump didn’t support.”

Schrenk described Trump as an “excellent president,” without his Twitter account. But his criticism of Kemp had been terribly unfair, Schrenk said. “He did everything he could,” Schrenk said of Kemp. “He had to follow the Constitution. Trump… can’t blame himself for losing the election. He is looking for someone to blame.”

Phoebe Mitchell, a special education teacher, said she voted for Trump twice and “thought he was a great president.

“But he lost the election. And the governor does not have the authority to nullify the election,” he said. “When he started criticizing Kemp, he didn’t agree with it. And then he was criticizing my state. I didn’t like that. I’ve lost a lot of love for him.”

Now, Mitchell said, if Trump endorses a “guy or girl,” the endorsement “makes me want to vote for anybody else.”

Brett Daise, a 22-year-old recent college graduate, said he had voted for Trump twice but now felt differently. Kemp was “his guy,” he said, because of how he handled the coronavirus and got the state “open for business,” he said. None of his friends, he said, voted for Perdue.

Daise said he had distanced himself from Trump due to the US Capitol riots on January 6, 2021, and his efforts to nullify the election. “It would be enough to lose anyone,” he said.

“Trump is a driving force behind some things,” Daise said. “But if Trump were a big driving force, Perdue wouldn’t be down 30 points.”

The Georgia gubernatorial primary has become the latest test of the power of conspiracy theories for the 2020 election in the Republican electorate, and may be a model of how Republicans can get through that election. President Biden narrowly won Georgia in the 2020 election and Kemp refused to question those results and certified them. Voters will also go to the polls to choose nominees in a Senate race to replace outgoing Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.); and elect candidates in the Texas runoff for attorney general and in Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar’s 28th district.

In Georgia, the Republican Governors Association, which launched a notable bid to protect incumbents from Trump-backed challengers this primary season, poured about $5 million into the Kemp-Perdue race, according to a person familiar with the matter. funding who spoke on condition of anonymity to share private budget details.

If Perdue loses, his loss will be the third in a gubernatorial race for Trump so far this primary season, including to Charles Herbster in Nebraska and Janice McGeachin in Idaho. Trump also endorsed Rep. Madison Cawthorn (right), who lost the North Carolina primary last week.

A bevy of Republican figures have descended on Georgia in recent days to endorse Kemp, including Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

While Trump pumped more than $2.5 million into the campaign, Perdue’s team has struggled to raise money against a popular incumbent governor, and observers say it has also struggled to launch political jabs at Kemp. Georgia political watchers say Perdue’s campaign has largely gone dark, with few ads and few major appearances in the closing days of the primary campaign.

Perdue’s campaign has revolved around unsubstantiated allegations of 2020 voter fraud, continuing Monday during his last appearance, refusing to promise to accept Tuesday’s election results and attacking the media.

“It has divided this state,” Perdue said of Kemp during a brief news conference Monday. “He allowed fraud to occur in our election. He denied that it happened. And he hid it ever since,” he said, taking advantage of his final moments of the campaign to keep repeating Trump’s false claims.

Kemp canceled a flight around the state Monday due to weather, and his team was expecting about 500 people at the Monday night rally. A recent Fox News poll He showed that he is getting 60 percent of the vote, well above the 50 percent margin required to avoid a second round.

The other big debate in the state is whether Raffensperger, the secretary of state, can keep his job. Like Kemp, he attracted a Trump-backed primary challenger because of his refusal to go along with Trump’s wishes to nullify the election.

Surprisingly, Raffensperger has sought to woo the former president’s base by raising some questions about the 2020 election that he refused to overturn without completely shedding his image as an official willing to take on Trump. He is being challenged by Hice, who accepted Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election.

Dawsey reported from Kennesaw, Georgia.

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