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Republican primaries in Georgia haunted by the spectre of Trump

The former president’s election lies lost him Georgia. Or did they?

By Emily Tamkin

WASHINGTON DC – The governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, fended off a Donald Trump-backed challenge to be the Republican gubernatorial candidate on Tuesday (24 May).

Trump threw his support behind David Perdue, a former Republican senator who lost his seat in the state to the Democrat Jon Ossoff. In that Senate re-election campaign, Perdue ran an anti-Semitic ad against Ossoff, who is Jewish, and made fun of the now-vice president Kamala Harris’s first name.

In his closing arguments during this campaign, he pitched a racist attack against Stacey Abrams, who will be the Democratic gubernatorial candidate. But Trump backed Perdue because Kemp did not help him overturn the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia, a state Trump lost, whereas Perdue pushed lies about the election. Brad Raffensperger, the state secretary who withstood pressure even when Trump asked him to “find” Republican votes, also won his re-election. (Georgia did, after the 2020 election, pass new laws that many said would, in practice, make it more difficult for people to vote; this was not enough to assuage Trump.)

Kemp’s victory means there will be a gubernatorial rematch in November with Abrams, whom Kemp beat in 2018. Abrams was the first black woman candidate to run for governor for a major party in US history. Kemp, when he ran, was also Georgia’s secretary of state, which is to say he oversaw the election in which he himself was running. His office had cancelled more than a million voter registrations between 2012 and 2016. Two days before the election, he announced an investigation into potential cybercrimes by the Democratic Party. After losing by just over 50,000 votes, Abrams founded Fair Fight Action, a voting rights non-profit.

In 2020, Georgia was not only competitive, it went blue – helping to put Joe Biden in the White House. Then, in early 2021, both of its Senate seats went to Democrats, giving them a majority in both federal legislative houses (whether the Biden administration and Senate Democrats have made the most of this opportunity is another matter, one that cannot be blamed on Georgia voters).

Even as some were hailing Abrams for her hard work in making all of that happen, some said her eye was already on challenging Kemp once again.

Will the second time be a charm for Abrams? Will Republican divisions help her at the polls? Or will new, tighter voting restrictions prove an impediment?

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The Republicans who stood up to Trump’s 2020 lies won, it’s true. However, the state still introduced laws that were widely expected to make it more difficult for people – and in particular black people in densely populated areas – to cast their ballots. So perhaps, in a way, Trump won.

Meanwhile, one Trump-endorsed candidate did triumph in Georgia on Tuesday: Herschel Walker won his primary and will be the Republican Senate candidate. Walker is a former professional American football player who has been accused of threatening violence against his ex-wife and ex-girlfriend. He will face off against the Democratic senator Raphael Warnock, a reverend, who won his seat in a special election in 2021 and is now seeking a full term. Walker, who falsely claimed to have graduated from the University of Georgia, is now falsely claiming never to have made his original false claim. It’s a move unworthy of public service, but worthy of Trump himself.

[See also: Far-right Republicans head to midterms after primary victories]

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