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Trump’s hold on Republican Party tested in Georgia elections

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp waves to the crowd following a rally ahead of the state's Republican primary, in Kennesaw, Georgia, US, May 23, 2022. (Reuters photo)

Georgia Republicans are expected to reject Donald Trump's campaign to oust Governor Brian Kemp in Tuesday's primary election, though polls show they are likely to back the former football star he has endorsed in their US Senate primary.

The former president has backed primary challenges to Kemp and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for rejecting his attempts to overturn his 2020 election defeat, which he falsely claims was the result of widespread fraud.

While polls show Kemp with a strong lead and Raffensperger locked in a close race, another Trump endorsee, former football great Herschel Walker, looks set to easily snag the Republican nomination to run for US Senate. Some party leaders worry his controversial past could doom his chances in the November midterm elections.

Republicans are expected to win a majority in the US House of Representatives on Nov. 8, though polls and nonpartisan political ratings agencies suggest Democrats have a better chance of holding onto their razor-thin majority in the Senate.

The loss of either chamber would bring President Joe Biden's legislative agenda to a halt and give Republicans the power to launch distracting and potentially politically damaging investigations.

Trump has made more than 190 endorsements since leaving office, most of which are for incumbent Republicans who face no serious primary opposition. While propelling some candidates in close contests to victory, his endorsement has at times fallen short. Trump's pick for Nebraska governor, who was accused of groping multiple women, lost his primary race. His nominee for US Senate in Pennsylvania is in a race still too close to call a week after voting.

Opinion polls show Georgia incumbent Kemp well above the 50% threshold required to win the nomination outright and avoid a run-off against Trump's hand-picked challenger, former US Senator David Perdue, who has repeated Trump's falsehoods about losing Georgia due to widespread voter fraud.

Mike Pence, who was Trump's vice president, urged voters not to dwell on the past when he campaigned for Kemp on Monday, speaking at a rally in Kennesaw, Georgia.

"Elections are about the future. There are those who want to make this election about the past," Pence said. "When you say yes to Governor Brian Kemp tomorrow, you will send a deafening message all across America that the Republican Party is the party of the future."

Echoing other Kemp supporters, Brian Seifried, 52, a retired tech sales executive, said in an interview in Atlanta that he liked Kemp's pro-business policies, his hard line on immigration, and his move to enact a sweeping set of voting restrictions after the 2020 election, even as he rebuffed pressure from Trump to overturn the state's 2020 presidential election results.

"I was already a supporter of Kemp. I did not consider Perdue at all. President Trump’s endorsement did not have any sway over what I think is best for Georgia," Seifried said.

Taking a page from Trump's 2020 election tactics, Perdue on Monday told reporters that he might not accept defeat on Tuesday if he believed results were fraudulent, according to local media.

Perdue also criticized Democrat Stacey Abrams, who is expected to face off against Kemp in a rematch of the 2018 election, after she decried Georgia's high incarceration and maternal mortality rates.

"She ain't from here. Let her go back where she came from if she doesn't like it here," he said, adding later, "She is demeaning her own race." Abrams, who is Black, was born in Wisconsin and moved to Georgia with her family as a child.

In other key Tuesday match-ups, US Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama, who lost Trump's endorsement after saying it was time to move on from the 2020 election, is among those battling for a Senate seat. And Trump-era White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders is favored to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Arkansas.

In Texas, a Democrat-on-Democrat congressional runoff election pits Henry Cuellar, the sole House Democrat who opposes abortion rights, against progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros. 

Possible run-off

Walker, a former star running back at the University of Georgia and in the NFL, appears poised to win the Republican primary easily, with two-thirds of Republican voters supporting him, according to a Fox News poll published last week.

He would face incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock in a race that would invite scrutiny of Walker's past, including allegations of domestic violence and his struggles with a mental health condition known as dissociative identity disorder.

More than 857,000 Georgians cast ballots during three weeks of early primary voting, a 168% increase compared with primaries in 2018, according to state officials.

Polling has suggested a tight race between Raffensperger, who drew Trump's ire for resisting his demand to overturn his loss, and Jody Hice, the Trump-backed US congressman seeking to become the state's top election official.

Andra Gillespie, a professor at Emory University in Atlanta, said she would not be surprised if the Raffensperger-Hice race went to a run-off. She said Raffensperger had shored up Republican support by pushing a ban on non-citizen voting.

"Even though he's not endorsing the 'Big Lie' he's made an effort to bolster his conservative credentials," Gillespie said, referring to Trump's claims about the 2020 election. "He has weathered the storm."

(Source: Reuters)


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