By Shane Goldmacher and Maya King
In a landslide victory that represented a resounding rebuke of Donald Trump, Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia won the Republican nomination for a second term Tuesday, turning back a Trump-fueled primary challenge and delivering the former president his biggest electoral setback of the 2022 primaries.
Trump had made defeating Kemp and his allies a top priority, seeking retribution for the decision by the governor and secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, to certify the 2020 election in Georgia. After his subversion efforts were rebuffed, Trump personally recruited former Sen. David Perdue to run for governor and his endorsement against Raffensperger was one of the earliest of his post-presidency.
Both Kemp and Raffensperger won anyway — and Kemp was leading by roughly 50 percentage points with more than 90% of the vote counted, a blowout that easily avoided a runoff.
Perdue had anchored his candidacy on promoting falsehoods about fraud in the last election, blaming Kemp both for Trump’s defeat and for his own loss in a 2021 runoff that gave Democrats control of the Senate. Trump went all in for Perdue: working to clear the field for him, recording television ads, holding a rally and even transferring $2.64 million from his political accounts to help him.
The lopsided outcome exposed the limits of Trump’s hold on his party’s base, marking the third consecutive week a candidate he had backed for governor had lost. It also was a sign of the waning potency of Trump’s obsession with relitigating his 2020 loss two years later.
Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey and a onetime Trump adviser, who had campaigned with Kemp, celebrated on Twitter, declaring that voters had rejected “the DJT Vendetta Tour.”
The victory for Kemp, 58, sets up a rematch of his 2018 battle with Stacey Abrams, 48, who won the Democratic nomination unopposed Tuesday, in what will be one of the most closely watched governor’s races in the nation this fall. His most urgent imperative is reuniting a Republican Party fractured by the divisive primary.
Standing on the artificial turf of a football field inside the Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta, Kemp refused to rhetorically spike the football. He thanked his opponent “for the spirited debate” and said Perdue had endorsed him in a phone call.
In a moment that underscored the bitterness of the race, Perdue said in a short concession speech that “everything I said about Brian Kemp was true” while still urging his backers to rally against Abrams, calling Kemp a “much better choice.”
While Georgia received top billing Tuesday, several other states held primaries, including Texas, where a mass shooting at an elementary school left 19 children dead and a nation in mourning. Kemp had delayed his victory speech until after President Joe Biden addressed the tragedy from the White House.
In Georgia’s U.S. Senate race, Herschel Walker, the former University of Georgia football star who was also recruited by Trump, won the Republican nomination and will face Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, in November. The matchup in the fall, the outcome of which could tip control of the Senate, is a rare general election contest in the South pitting two Black candidates against one another.
With nearly 200 endorsements so far, Trump has set up the 2022 primary season as a rolling referendum on his influence in the party. He has scored notable big successes, such as J.D. Vance in Ohio, and suffered defeats in Nebraska and Idaho. But no state so far has been as much a focus for Trump as Georgia, where he not only set out to oust the governor but also Kemp’s allies across other statewide offices.
Trump’s pick for attorney general lost in a landslide and his choice for insurance commissioner was far behind, as well. His choice for the open lieutenant governor’s office was ahead but possibly headed to a runoff.
In the secretary of state race, Raffensperger, the Republican incumbent whom Trump pressured to “find” the sufficient votes to overturn the election in early 2021, averted a runoff against Rep. Jody Hice, leading by roughly 200,000 votes shortly after midnight.
In Texas, the last scion of the Bush political dynasty, Land Commissioner George P. Bush, was defeated in the state attorney general’s race, losing to the scandal-plagued incumbent, Ken Paxton. And in a Democratic contest along the border, Rep. Henry Cuellar, one of the most moderate Democrats in the House, was deadlocked against a progressive challenge from Jessica Cisneros that has drawn national attention.
In Alabama, three Republican candidates were vying to make the runoff to succeed retiring Sen. Richard Shelby: Rep. Mo Brooks; Mike Durant, the helicopter pilot portrayed in “Black Hawk Down”; and Katie Britt, a former chief of staff to Shelby. Trump had initially endorsed Brooks early in 2021. But as Brooks sagged in the polls, he rescinded that endorsement. Brooks advanced to the runoff with Britt, who was the top vote-getter.
Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama won her primary against two right-wing challengers.
And in Arkansas, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the former White House press secretary and the daughter of former Gov. Mike Huckabee, easily won the Republican primary for governor and Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas avoided a runoff against Jake Bequette, a former football star, in a race that has seen more than $7 million in television ads.
In Georgia, Kemp had methodically locked up the support of the state’s biggest political players and donors in anticipation of a Trump-fueled primary challenge. He signed into law numerous conservative priorities, including a restrictive new voting law in 2021 and a gas-tax holiday that extends just past the primary. He also expanded gun rights, raised teacher pay and dispatched tax rebate checks that went out in recent weeks.
All those maneuvers and more left Perdue isolated, with little to lean on beyond the support of Trump, who has seethed for 18 months about Kemp’s refusal to attempt to overturn the 2020 election results in his state.