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Election denial backfires for opponents in Georgia primary

It’s a huge warning sign for the way Republican voters view the former president’s crusade to punish those who were not willing to overturn the 2020 election.

ATLANTA — Former President Donald Trump's crusade for vengeance suffered two devastating blows after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger won their primaries Tuesday despite rejecting Trump's entreaties to reverse his 2020 election loss.

It's a huge warning sign for the way Republican voters view the former president's crusade to punish those who were not willing to overturn the will of the voters in 2020.

Trump had hoped to turn Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp into an example of the danger in defying him. Instead, Kemp on Tuesday became an example of how Republican incumbents might not have as much to fear from Trump as the former president would like.

Kemp cruised past former U.S. Sen. David Perdue in the Republican primary. The victory came a year and a half after Kemp rejected Trump's demands to help overturn the presidential election by declaring Trump the winner in Georgia instead of Joe Biden, who actually won.

Perdue’s campaign fixated on Trump's lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him, but Kemp won by flexing the power of his office. To rally the base, he signed laws allowing most Georgians to carry guns without a permit and banning most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. He also announced an investment by Hyundai in a new plant in the state to make batteries for electric vehicles.

Now Kemp will face Democrat Stacey Abrams in a rematch of their 2018 gubernatorial clash. Unlike Trump in 2020, Perdue accepted his defeat Tuesday night, even seeming to brush aside some supporters who took up a chant suggesting there was fraud.

“I’m sorry, but what we’re going to do right now is make sure Stacey Abrams is not governor of this state,” Perdue said.

The Georgia governor's race wasn't the only Trump grudge match that backfired on the former president. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who personally rejected Trump's call to “find” enough votes to declare him the winner in Georgia, defeated his Trump-backed primary challenger as well.

Trump recruited U.S. Rep. Jody Hice from a safe congressional seat to face Raffensperger in the Republican primary, but Hice lost. Trump endorsed primary challengers to the insurance commissioner and attorney general, and they, too, lost.

It's clear the former president’s harping on 2020 simply did not speak to Republican voters in Georgia, the country's newest battleground state.

“Georgia underscores one of Trump’s big problems if/when he runs again,” Brendan Buck, a former spokesperson for onetime House Speaker Paul Ryan, tweeted Tuesday. “He, of course, won’t be able to let go of the 2020 nonsense, and nobody wants to hear his whining about it anymore.”

But multiple Republicans have made clear they’re eyeing 2024 presidential bids, including Pence and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. And they have distanced themselves in ways large and small from Trump’s election allegations. Elections are usually about the future, and by the time the 2024 GOP primary rolls around, November 2020 will be ancient history.

Trump did notch some wins Tuesday. They came with baggage, but that didn't seem to stop them.

Former football great Herschel Walker, Trump's pick for U.S. Senate in Georgia, dominated his Republican challengers. Party leaders had first shied away from him because of his checkered history.

Walker, in his autobiography, admits struggling with mental illness. His ex-wife said that during their marriage he held a gun to her head and threatened to kill her. He claimed to have founded a chicken processing company employing hundreds but reported only eight workers when applying for a loan during the coronavirus pandemic. He lied about founding a charity to help veterans get aid with mental health.

But eventually even Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell ended up embracing Walker as the party’s best chance to oust Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock. The bet is that voters won’t care as much about scandals in post-Trump America.

Meanwhile, firebrand Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene won her Republican primary, shrugging off challengers who complained Greene was giving the party a bad name by engaging in Holocaust denial and other headline-grabbing, bombastic behavior.

A look at some key down-ballot races in the Georgia primaries. 

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Lieutenant Governor

A lawmaker endorsed by Trump led three fellow Republican rivals seeking the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor, though it was too early to call the race. The office’s current occupant, Republican and Trump critic Geoff Duncan, passed on seeking another term.

State Sen. Burt Jones led in unofficial returns. Jones called for a statewide investigation into the 2020 election, embracing Trump’s baseless claims of widespread fraud.

Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, businesswoman Jeanne Seaver and manufacturing plant supervisor Mack McGregor were also on the Republican ballot.

In the crowded Democratic primary, former Atlanta City Council member Kwanza Hall was headed to a runoff. It was too early to call who his opponent would be. The Democratic field included state Reps. Erick Allen, Derrick Jackson and Renitta Shannon. Also running were 2018 Democratic attorney general nominee Charlie Bailey, physician Jason Hayes, Air Force veteran Tony Brown, businessman Rashid Malik and Tyrone Brooks Jr., son of a longtime state lawmaker.

Attorney General

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr bested another Trump-backed candidate who challenged the Republican incumbent over the 2020 election.

Carr defended his office against fellow Republican John Gordon, who said he wants to investigate Trump’s claims of election fraud and that Carr isn’t doing enough to look into them. Carr noted that Republicans lost and there’s no stolen election to investigate.

Democratic state Sen. Jen Jordan will oppose Carr in the fall election. She won the Democratic primary after running to protect consumers and abortion rights. She defeated fellow Democrat Christian Wise Smith, a former Fulton County prosecutor who founded a nonprofit that works to end police brutality.

Insurance Commissioner

Insurance Commissioner John King overcame his first election challenge since the governor appointed him to the post in 2019. He defeated two fellow Republicans: real estate developer Ben Cowart and Patrick Witt, a legal consultant endorsed by Trump.

A former Doraville police chief and Army National Guard officer, King took the job following the indictment of his predecessor, Jim Beck, who was convicted last year of fraud.

It was too early to call the Democratic primary between three contenders. Janice Laws Robinson was seeking a second chance after running unsuccessfully for insurance commissioner as the 2018 Democratic nominee. She faced insurance salesman Raphael Baker and attorney Matthew Wilson.

School Superintendent

Georgia’s Republican state school superintendent easily won a primary challenge by a predecessor hoping to take the job back.

Incumbent Superintendent Richard Woods defeated fellow Republican John Barge in a race marked by back-and-forth allegations over who performed worst in the job.

Alisha Thomas Searcy won the Democratic primary for school superintendent eight years after she ran unsuccessfully for the office. She defeated three other Democrats seeking the nomination.

Agriculture Commissioner

Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black wasn't seeking reelection, opting instead to run for U.S. Senate in the Republican primary that was won Tuesday by former football great Herschel Walker.

In the Democratic primary, Nakita Hemingway, a cut-flower grower and real estate agent, defeated State Rep. Winfred Dukes and Fred Swann, the Democrat who unsuccessfully challenged Black in 2018.

Republican state Sen. Tyler Harper was unopposed for the GOP nomination.

Labor Commissioner

State Sen. Bruce Thompson won a three-way primary for the Republican nomination for Georgia labor commissioner.

Incumbent Labor Commissioner Mark Butler, a Republican, wasn’t seeking reelection. His last term was marked by a scramble to process record unemployment claims resulting from coronavirus shutdowns.

Thompson led the GOP primary over Mike Coan, who had served as Butler’s deputy labor commissioner and won his boss’s endorsement, and businessman Kartik Bhatt.

It was too early to call the Democratic primary. That race included state Rep. William Boddie, entrepreneur Nicole Horn, state Sen. Lester Jackson, attorney and businesswoman Nadia Surrency and courier Thomas Dean.

Congress

Eight members of Congress from Georgia overcame primary challengers Tuesday.

Democratic Reps. Sanford Bishop, David Scott, Hank Johnson and Nikema Williams all won contested primary races. Rep. Lucy McBath defeated fellow Democratic Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux in a primary race between incumbents in metro Atlanta’s 7th District.

Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Andrew Clyde and Drew Ferguson all beat GOP primary rivals.

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