After beginning the crucial spring primary season with a bang, Donald Trump is heading for a big thud in Georgia.
Just how much is May 24 going to sting for Trump, and why does it matter considering his stellar endorsement record overall? In one fell swoop, Republican voters in Georgia are poised both to dismiss as irrelevant the former president’s unsupported claims that the 2020 election was stolen and reject the handpicked candidate he enlisted to mete out punishment for the so-called crime of the century — or however he’s currently referring to his loss in the Peach State to now-President Joe Biden.
Trump recruited former Sen. David Perdue to challenge incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp for one reason and one reason only: Kemp refused to take illegal and unconstitutional steps to overturn Trump's loss to Biden in Georgia in 2020, the first such loss by a Republican presidential nominee since 1992. The governor also repeatedly affirmed the will of the voters as reflected by Biden’s slim margin of victory of 0.23 percentage points. (OK, that was two reasons.)
That’s what makes this, potentially, such a big deal for Trump despite his overwhelmingly positive win-loss record overall in Republican primaries across the country.
There are few nominating contests, if any, in which the former president invested this much of his credibility as a GOP kingmaker. And although his strong relationship with grassroots conservatives remains intact — after all, Kemp voters are Trump supporters — this glaring inability to translate that support into the governor’s defeat is sure to embolden prominent Republicans who want to oppose him on occasion but have been skittish. A Kemp win also could generate more competition for Trump in 2024.
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Interested in avenging his loss to Biden, the former president is mulling a third White House bid. He would begin as the favorite for the Republican nomination. But losing a Georgia gubernatorial primary Trump and Perdue instigated as a referendum on the former president and his theories about the last election could change how he is seen by ambitious Republicans who otherwise supported his administration and leadership of the party.
They might conclude Trump is less bulletproof than he appears and decide to chance a 2024 bid after all. In that scenario, Trump would still be the favorite to prevail. But a favorite who must fight through with competition is a favorite who runs the risk of an upset.
By the way, who is busy campaigning for Kemp in the final days of the primary campaign? None other than former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, all of whom Trump has dropped from his proverbial Christmas card list.
Trump will be able to claim at least one victory in Georgia on Tuesday regardless of the outcome of the gubernatorial primary. Former professional football player Herschel Walker, a Georgia folk hero, is expected to win the Republican nomination for Senate easily. Walker might have been in this position without Trump. But the former president’s early endorsement helped keep other formidable Republicans out of the primary. Other than a couple of unknown long shots, only state Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black decided to run anyway. The former president’s endorsed candidate for lieutenant governor, Burt Jones, also is on track to win, while in the 6th Congressional District primary, Trump-backed Jake Evans also has a shot.
However, Trump’s endorsed candidate in the race for secretary of state, Rep. Jody Hice, is not a lock against incumbent Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who oversees elections and, behind Kemp, is the Georgia Republican the former president reviles most. And Vernon Jones, a former Democratic state legislator running in the 10th District's Republican primary, is expected to finish out of the top two and therefore miss any runoff that might be necessary.
Now, to the field …
Redistricting. The aftershocks of a court decision in New York to throw out the redistricting map approved by the legislature are reverberating across the Empire State and roiling Democrats in Washington, D.C. Not only did a state court’s decision that the initial map smacked of unfair gerrymandering slash the number of seats drawn to elect Democrats in a cycle in which they face the prospect of a GOP wave, but it sparked infighting among Democrats on Capitol Hill when they can least afford it, as my colleague Juliegrace Brufke reported this week.
One consequence of the new map is that New York Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, made a snap decision to switch districts and mount a primary against Rep. Mondaire Jones. Every 10 years, reapportionment sparks member-on-member primaries. It happens. But Maloney runs the DCCC, the committee that exists to defend vulnerable House Democrats and expand the number of Democratic-held seats. For the committee’s chairman to target a fellow Democratic incumbent is almost unheard of and is the last sort of controversy Democrats need while staring down the barrel of a Republican midterm elections tsunami.
North Carolina Senate. Rep. Ted Budd easily won the Republican nomination for Senate in North Carolina, handing Trump a major victory in the endorsement wars. The former president backed Budd pretty early in the election cycle, immediately making him the front-runner over former Gov. Pat McCrory and former Rep. Mark Walker. Still, Budd’s win was not Trump’s alone to brag about. The congressman ran into trouble earlier this year, and for a brief moment, the primary was McCrory’s to lose. (Walker never gained traction.)
To the rescue came the Club for Growth, the graybeard of conservative advocacy groups. The group dumped millions of dollars into North Carolina on Budd’s behalf and was instrumental in rescuing his candidacy and putting him on a glide path to the nomination in the campaign’s final weeks. It did not matter to Trump. Even as the Club for Growth was saving the former president’s endorsement record in a key Senate race, he was feuding with the group because it continued to invest in, and support, opposing candidates in other primaries.
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- 2024 watch. Nikki Haley is returning to Iowa. The former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Trump is headlining a major political gathering in northwest Iowa in June hosted by GOP Rep. Randy Feenstra. Iowa is scheduled to host the first nominating contest of the 2024 Republican presidential primary. And Feenstra’s northern Iowa 4th District is a conservative bastion chock-full of committed Republican caucusgoers who often have a big say in the outcome of this key race. On the same trip, Haley also will keynote an event for the Iowa Republican Party in Dubuque County, a swing county along the Mississippi River that voted twice for Trump and, before that, twice for Barack Obama.