Watkinsville, Ga. ( Associated Press) — Two Republican frontrunners are hoping to secure a majority in the primary as candidates make their final pitch to Georgia voters on Saturday before Tuesday’s election.
Governor Brian Kemp and former football star Herschel Walker are expected to win the GOP majority and clinch nominations without any runoff for governor and US senator on Tuesday, which showed both men supported by more than 50% of the electorate. Kemp met voters at a rally in Watkinsville, near his home in Athens, in which Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts endorsed him.
Walker was supposed to rally in Columbus later on Saturday, despite persistent questions about his past that have moved into a more public campaign phase in recent days. Walker has been accused of endangering his ex-wife’s life, exaggerating his business record, and lying about graduating from the University of Georgia. An Associated Press story on Saturday found that Walker was actually a paid spokesperson for a for-profit Veterans program that Walker described helps veterans.
Other candidates are also making the final pitch. Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, Kemp’s top opponent for the Republican nomination, met with Republicans in Union County in North Georgia. Walker’s rivals, including state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black and Navy veteran and former banker Latham Sadler, were meeting with supporters in suburban Atlanta. And several Democrats are attending a party event Saturday night in Gwinett County, where Democratic congressmen Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bordeaux are attending Tuesday’s primary.
For Kemp, an outright victory after months of attacks from former President Donald Trump would prove to be true. Perdue was personally roped in by Trump to enter the race as a retaliation for Kemp with Trump’s attempt to reverse Georgia’s 2020 election. Perdue embraced Trump’s election lie, starting two debates between candidates with the claim that the 2020 vote was “rigged and stolen.”
Ricketts appeared after Jim Pilen, whom Ricketts endorsed to succeed him as governor of Nebraska, defeated Trump-backed Charles Herbster in a Republican primary in Nebraska on May 10.
Ricketts said after his speech that he felt that both of those races proved that “candidates matter, that the people in the state will choose the best candidate.”
Ricketts is the 2022 co-chair of the Republican Governors Association, which has spent millions to support Kemp against Perdue. Other RGA figures who have been at odds with Trump have also come to Georgia in recent days to campaign for Kemp, including Arizona Governor Doug Ducey. Trump’s former Vice President Mike Pence will help Kemp kick off his campaign at Monday’s rally in suburban Atlanta.
Despite the rift, Ricketts played down differences with Trump, saying party splits are “not unusual” in the contested primaries.
“I support many of President Trump’s policies, and I know Brian Kemp does,” Ricketts said. “And in this case, we tend to be on opposite sides of what we’re choosing in these races.”
Neither Kemp nor Ricketts mentioned Perdue in their speeches on Saturday. Kemp’s stump speech, as it has been in recent days, focused on the threat of Democrat Stacey Abrams, who is unopposed in her party’s primary on Tuesday. The state Democratic Party on Friday issued an ad criticizing Kemp for his early decision to lift several COVID-19 restrictions on businesses in Georgia, as well as his successful push for a law requiring them to carry a concealed handgun. Permit requirement removed. The Democratic ad claimed, “Every time Kemp gambles for the vote, the Georgians lose.”
On Saturday, Kemp portrayed those actions as 2018 campaign promises he kept while mobilizing his supporters outside his hometown of Athens. The crowd was scattered with longtime Kemp supporters and Republican officials.
Kemp said of his actions, “There can be people out there and even people here don’t agree with it all.” “But you can’t say I didn’t do what I said I was going to do.”
If Kemp wins, he is faced with the task of bringing the party together, knowing that every vote may be needed to defeat a well-financed Abrams and active Democrat in the fall. Some pro-Trump Republicans continue to say they will not vote for Kemp, but the incumbent expresses confidence that Abrams’ ghost will inspire them.
“I think Stacy Abrams is a great integrator,” Kemp told reporters. “There are differences among people as to who they want their nominee. But I can guarantee you, Republicans in Georgia know I’d be a much better governor than Stacey Abrams.