Kemp’s position with the base has improbably improved, according to interviews with more than 30 party officials, strategists and activists here. And in his partial rehabilitation – the product of a relentless focus on so-called electoral integrity issues and staples of cultural warfare to excite the grassroots – Kemp may serve as a role model for dozens of Republicans elsewhere who have incurred anger. Trump’s public and seek to regain their position with Republicans at home.
Kemp’s fate is especially significant in Georgia, a swing state where Trump was not only defeated by Joe Biden, but saw Republicans lose both seats in the US Senate in the state’s runoff in January. Fearing that Trump’s frequent criticism of Kemp could lead to a damaging primary and lower Republican turnout in a close general election – potentially rematch with Democrat Stacey Abrams – Several Georgia-based Republicans and Republicans with ties to the state have privately called on Trump to hold back, according to several sources familiar with the conversations.
“I think he wins [next year’s GOP primary] with 65.70% of the vote, ”said Robert Lee, a Georgia-based Republican strategist, in a crowded room shortly after Kemp spoke on Saturday afternoon.
This assessment – widely shared here – is one that Trump-puffed-up Republicans elsewhere could learn from. Earlier this year, Kemp polls fell, GOP activists in several counties berated him, and it wasn’t clear whether the governor, who was running for his second term next year, could even survive a main challenge.
On Saturday, Kemp was greeted with a section of cheers to rival the boos. Then he lingered for several hours in convention halls – shaking hands and posing for pictures.
Clint Day, a former state senator who just a few months ago was much more pessimistic about Kemp’s prospects, said: “I think he could be re-elected.”
The immediate cause of the improvement in Kemp’s position is the controversial voting law Kemp defended, which, among other restrictions, makes postal voting more difficult. The signing in March not only reaffirmed his conservative credentials on access to the vote, but made him a central figure in the GOP’s war on the issue with Democrats and American business.
Joel Allen, a party official in suburban Atlanta’s 6th Congressional District, said “Kemp has really done himself a favor with SB 202», With reference to the voting bill.
And while the Republicans may have been disappointed with Kemp, they got a joint foil in Major League Baseball, which announced he would move his all-star game out of Atlanta to protest the legislation. The convictions of two Georgia-based companies, Coca-Cola and Delta, gave Kemp another platform to fight perceived excesses of business and the left.
Kemp has also directly inserted itself into the GOP’s broader culture wars. In fundraising calls over the past few weeks, he has taken hold of key wedge issues, saying critical race theory “has NO PLACE in our classrooms in Georgia,” while emphasizing “Cancel Culture” pillory and “Defund the Police” absurd that is taking hold in the Liberal Democrats’ strongholds in Washington, DC ”
Meanwhile, the governor has significantly relaxed coronavirus restrictions in the state, while issuing a executive decree at the end of last month prohibiting state agencies from requiring Covid-19 vaccine passports.
By April, Kemp’s approval rating among Georgia Republicans had climbed 15 percentage points of its post-election low, according to Morning Consult, standing at 74%. The campaign’s internal polls also showed an improvement from the start of this year.
“I’m in a much better position than what the media wants to tell people that I am,” Kemp said on Saturday, while declining to comment.
At a rally at Westin Jekyll Island on Friday night, Vernon Jones, a former Democratic Republican turned Trump supporter who has so far been Kemp’s most prominent opponent, called Kemp “RINO,” and Jones’ supporters were among the most vocal. boo Kemp the next day. Debbie Dooley, a founder of the Tea Party movement in Atlanta that supports Jones, called him “Georgia’s Donald Trump,” and a vocal contingent of Jones’ supporters gathered around him in the convention halls.
But Jones’ own history as a Democrat, in addition to the rich opposition research file on him, baffles many Republicans in the state.
“If his opponent is Vernon Jones, I think Brian Kemp will be the candidate,” said Jay Williams, a Georgia-based Republican strategist. “He’s a former Democrat, man… Vernon Jones is the crazy uncle we’ve known for a long time.”
The problem for the GOP, said Donna Rowe, a Cobb County party official in suburban Atlanta, is that “we eat ours in primary.”
“We’re still going to win it, but it will be a bloodbath,” she said.
Kemp is not yet “out of the woods” with the base, Allen said. This was evident in the cacophony of boos he received during his remarks at the convention, a gathering that typically attracts a state’s most ardent activists. The convention, one of the busiest in state history, brought together many first-time delegates who joined the convention in large part because they believe in the lie that the election was stolen to Trump.
Yet even among this far-right audience, Kemp fared better than some other Georgian elected officials who refuted Trump’s baseless accusations of widespread electoral fraud. One of them, Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, who, along with Raffensperger, did not attend the convention, recently announced that he would not be running again. Another, Attorney General Chris Carr, was nearly overwhelmed by boos when he addressed the crowd on Friday.
Raffensperger, however, saw the worst – not only did he repudiate Trump’s claims that the election was stolen, but he was also closer in his office to the ballot count than Kemp. One of Raffensperger’s main opponents, David Belle Isle, the former mayor of Alpharetta whom Raffensperger beat in a 2018 run-off for the nomination, handed out literature at the convention depicting Raffensperger with horns of devil on the head. Representative Jody Hice, who has championed Trump’s efforts to overthrow the election and is running with his approval, handed out boot pins that read “Boot Brad.”
The state party overwhelmingly passed a resolution on Saturday to censor Raffensperger.
Bruce Thompson, a Georgia state senator who had called for additional reviews of the November election, said Raffensperger was “done.” But he said the math surrounding Kemp has changed.
While “the base is still pissed off,” he said, Kemp “handled this the best he could, in regards to the pandemic and opening up to us, as governor… Brian did a good job. work since the elections with the economy and by signing the SB 202. And it travels the state.
It is a formula that is not lost on Republicans who angered Trump in other states. In Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey, also vilified by Trump – and censored by republicans in his state – applauded the conservatives when he issued a decree in April banning the use of certain “vaccine passports”.
Much like with Ducey, Trump ridiculed Kemp as “RINO” at the height of their post-election feud, when the former president pledged to campaign against Kemp in 2022. Until April, Trump claimed that Kemp “surrendered to the awakened radical left crowd.“He said he was”shameful“, He supported Kemp in 2018.
But the governor’s rebound could limit Trump’s options in the state. Former Representative Doug Collins, an ally of Trump, said in april that he would not run for governor after Trump made it float as a potential candidate.
“If Brian Kemp keeps doing what he’s doing, which is election law, spend another session with Dems saying he’s a terrible person,” Williams said, “I think he’s probably a very big deal far from securing his nomination. “