Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has clinched the GOP primary for governor over former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, according to The Associated Press.
Perdue was propelled into the race and endorsed by former President Donald Trump. Throughout the campaign, both continued to argue — without evidence — that Kemp allowed Democrats to steal the 2020 presidential election.
After Perdue entered the race, the primary became a test of Trump's grip on the Republican Party and whether relitigating 2020 election grievances continues to resonate with voters two years on.
"Even in the middle of a tough primary, conservatives across our state didn't listen to the noise," Kemp told the crowd at the College Football Hall of Fame in his victory speech Tuesday night.
"But I want to be crystal clear with all of you here tonight," Kemp said."Our battle is far from over. Tonight the fight for the soul of our state begins, to make sure Stacey Abrams is not going to be our governor or the next president."
Kemp now turns to a rematch this November with Abrams, the Democrat who he narrowly defeated for office in 2018. If the primaries are any indication of enthusiasm ahead, voters in Georgia cast a record number of early ballots in the May primary.
Perdue called Kemp to concede the race and pledged to support the governor in his campaign against Abrams this fall.
Kemp, hoping to wield the power of his incumbency to solidify support among staunchly Republican voters, signed into law a laundry list of conservative priorities this year. They included legislation allowing Georgians to carry handguns without a permit, and education bills that prohibit so-called "divisive concepts" from being taught in classrooms and allow parents to opt their children out of school mask mandates.
Separately, seeking to cushion the pain of rising prices for groceries and gas, Kemp deployed part of the state budget surplus to approve an income tax cut, raises for teachers and state employees and a temporary suspension of the state gas tax that is set to expire after the primary.
Perdue, meanwhile, largely argued the case for his candidacy around the notion that widespread election fraud swung the election for President Biden in 2020.
Election fraud lies persist
During Perdue's opening statement at a recent debate, his very first words were: "First off, folks, let me be very clear tonight, the election in 2020 was rigged and stolen."
Multiple audits have produced no evidence of widespread election fraud in Georgia.
In the months after the election, then-President Trump appealed to Georgia's top GOP officials to help him overturn Biden's win in Georgia — including a January call to Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, asking him to "find" 11,780 votes for him. He declined.
Since then, Kemp's relationship with the former president soured and Trump urged Perdue to mount a primary bid against him. Kemp has mostly managed to stay above Trump's constant barrage of insults.
Even some Republicans who believe the false claims about widespread fraud in 2020 say that they were not swayed by Trump's endorsement in the governor's race.
"I like President Trump, but he can say some pretty mean things and I don't always agree with what he says," said Linda Dickerson before a Kemp campaign stop at an apple orchard in Ellijay, Ga. She said she voted for Kemp because she's been impressed with how he's managed the economy amid the pandemic.
Pundits and strategists will now begin mining Georgia's primary results for clues about whether the Republican Party can move forward from Trump — and whether the former president's false election fraud claims could outlast his own political clout.
Robert Duffy said he voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020, but would not vote for him if the former president ran a third time. Sipping a margarita on the quaint town square in suburban Alpharetta, Ga., Duffy said he is ready to move on from Trump and other Republicans' insistence that the 2020 election was rigged.
"It's a bit of a turn off at this point," Duffy said. "Why are we looking back at this point? I think it's deterring our efforts in the Republican Party to move forward."
While several primary contests head to runoffs at the end of June because no candidate reached a 50% vote threshold, Kemp can now focus on his general election campaign against Abrams.
More than a million new people have registered to vote in Georgia, many of them people of color, since Abrams' slim 2018 loss, but Democrats are facing a challenging national climate when inflation, war abroad and Biden's stalled domestic agenda may dampen the demographic tide shifting in Georgia.