- The Washington Times - Friday, May 20, 2022

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 has brandished his conservative bona fides while awarding millions of dollars in federal grants and extolling the virtues of economic development projects on the horizon.

It is a luxury that many 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 Republican 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 said Mr. Trump underestimated Mr. Kemp.

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

Mr. Kemp took another victory lap Friday by signing a deal with Hyundai. The South Korean automaker will spend $5.54 billion to build an electric car and battery manufacturing plant that promises to add thousands of jobs in southeastern Georgia. 

“My commitment to hardworking Georgians to make our state the best place to live, work and raise our families remains steadfast, and with this announcement, which is now the largest economic development project in our state’s history, we will continue working to make Georgia the premier destination for quality companies who are creating the jobs of today, tomorrow and beyond,” Mr. Kemp said.

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 gave Mr. Kemp lots of news coverage, thrusting him into living rooms across the state and helping solidify his support among Republicans and conservative activists.

“Gov. 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 is scheduled to campaign Monday with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the one-time Republican vice presidential nominee who is seeking an open congressional seat in her home state. Ms. 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 primary. 

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

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Sunday that Mr. Perdue made his own choice to challenge Mr. Kemp.

“David Perdue is perfectly capable of making his own choices. And [former] President [Donald] Trump, obviously, has gotten involved,” Mrs. McDaniel said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Although Mr. Perdue trails Mr. Kemp by a wide margin in the polls, Mrs. McDaniel noted that a runoff election is possible.

“The votes haven’t been counted. Kemp needs to pass a 50% threshold to win the nomination outright, and we’ll see what happens then,” she said.

On the Democratic side, voting rights activist 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 Ms. Abrams in the 2018 election. She never conceded the election, 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 Republican Senate nominating race with 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 of Congress. 

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican 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.

Reps. 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 Republicans are 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 bid to unseat Trump-backed Ken Paxton in the attorney general’s race.

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

Mr. Trump’s influence on the 2022 Republican 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 Republican Senate primary, where the celebrity doctor holds a slim lead over former hedge fund manager David McCormick.

Mrs. McDaniel said “the power of [Mr. Trump’s] endorsement is astounding.”

“You know, President Trump has endorsed in 84 races, he’s won 81. That’s like an A+. Just a note, Joe Biden is not being asked to endorse in any race because no Democrat wants to be seen with him, including Stacey Abrams, who is running [for governor] in Georgia,” she said.

Gov. Brad Little of Idaho was one of the candidates who survived a challenge from a Trump-backed challenger, underscoring the difficulty Mr. Trump has had dislodging sitting Republican 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.”

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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