ATLANTA, US: Republican voters delivered a stark repudiation Tuesday of Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” that the 2020 US election was stolen, backing Georgia Governor Brian Kemp for re-election by a huge margin over a candidate recruited by the former president.
Trump had banked much of his own political capital hand-picking David Perdue to oust Kemp in the nominating contest to compete for the governor’s mansion in November’s midterm elections.
Perdue had made Trump’s claims about 2020 a centerpiece of his campaign, in a direct appeal to his endorser’s supporters who continue wrongly to question the validity of the outcome.
But the former senator was forced to concede, in an embarrassing blow for Trump, as the early count showed him trailing by almost 50 points less than 90 minutes after polls closed.
Kemp, frequently the target of Trump’s wrath for refusing to help overturn the election, was always expected to win, but the margin of defeat represents a stinging rebuke of Trump from a state he lost by the narrowest of margins in 2020.
Another Trump-backed election denier, John Gordon, also lost his challenge to Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr.
Five states were holding nominating contests for congressional elections that will decide in November which party controls the US Senate and House of Representatives for the remainder of President Joe Biden’s first term.
But all eyes are on the Peach State, where wounds from the 2020 presidential election are still festering two years after Biden won the state by under 12,000 votes.
Up and down the ballot, the Republican side of the Georgia primary pitted candidates peddling the former president’s election fraud claims against hopefuls who pushed back in defense of the Constitution.
But Kemp’s confidence in victory over his opponent was apparent Monday at a rally in Cobb County with former vice president Mike Pence, where neither man mentioned Perdue once.
“I was for Brian Kemp before it was cool,” Pence told a cheering crowd of a few hundred at an airfield on the outskirts of Atlanta.
Pence’s support for a candidate Trump reviles marks a high-profile clash between the former president and his White House wingman, underscoring the party’s internal tug of war over its future direction.
The race to be Georgia’s secretary of state is seen as equally consequential as the contest for governor, as these are the officials who oversee elections in the United States.
Democrats fear that, across the country, Trump will be able to install loyalists who can weaponize specious fraud accusations from 2020 to make it harder for his opponents to vote in 2024.
As the man responsible for certifying Georgia’s 2020 election results, Brad Raffensperger was in lockstep with Kemp in pushing back against Trump.
He faced Jody Hice, one of more than a dozen Trump-backed candidates across America bidding to become secretary of state and professing to believe the 2020 election was stolen.
With more than 300,000 votes counted, Raffensperger was a comfortable 16 points ahead with 50 percent, the threshold for avoiding a run-off against Hice.
Biden was the first Democratic presidential candidate since 1992 to win Georgia, while Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff triumphed in runoff elections in January 2021 that wrested control of the US Senate from Republicans.
Warnock cruised through his primary and will face Trump-backed football star Herschel Walker, who also sailed to the Republican nomination for Senate.
Georgia’s Democrats are doing all they can to cement their 2021 gains, headlined by news that Democratic star campaigner Stacey Abrams, who is unopposed in her bid for governor.
Abrams courted controversy over the weekend with remarks that Georgia is the “worst state in the country to live,” citing its health care and crime statistics, rising incarceration rates and falling wages.
At a news conference Tuesday, she attempted to clean up a comment that Republicans have seized on as a sign of her lack of local pride, faulting herself for an “inelegant delivery” of her message.
In a brief concession speech, Perdue backed Kemp in his bid to see off Abrams’s challenge.
“We’re going to make sure Stacey Abrams is not governor of the state,” he said.
Nominating contests are also being held in Minnesota, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas, where a school shooting that left at least 18 children dead had cast a grim pall over the state’s primary.