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Tuesday’s Southern primaries will test Donald Trump’s continuing grip on Republican Party

Trump’s effort to get rid of Georgia Governor Brian Kemp likely to go up in flames, but Sarah Huckabee Sanders takes step toward Arkansas governor’s mansion

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Decision 2022(CFP) — Donald Trump’s continuing grip on the Republican Party will be front and center in Tuesday’s Southern primaries, as GOP voters in Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas decide whether to punish some of Trump’s top nemeses and support candidates he anointed.

trump southern primariesTrump appears likely to fail in his quest to defeat Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, who angered him by refusing entreaties to overturn his 2020 election loss in the Peach State.

And in Alabama, the U.S. Senate candidate he endorsed and then unendorsed, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, has risen from the dead and may snag a spot in the runoff, which could create a tricky predicament for the former president.

Meanwhile, Trump’s former press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is expected to be nominated for Arkansas governor Tuesday, and Herschel Walker, whom Trump recruited, is expected to win the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in Georgia.

Also, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who led the legal charge to overturn Trump’s 2020 loss, is in a tight primary runoff with Bush family scion George P. Bush, son of Trump nemesis Jeb Bush. Trump endorsed Paxton, who is seeking a third term while facing criminal charges and an FBI investigation.

Here is a look at the key Trump-involved races on Tuesday’s ballots:

Georgia

Polls show Kemp will likely crush former U.S. Senator David Perdue, who was encouraged to challenge Kemp by Trump in his quest to take down the governor.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who likewise earned Trump’s wrath by refusing to intervene in the 2020 election, also faces a Trump-backed challenger, U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, in his quest for a second term. With four candidates in the race, a runoff is likely, which would give Trump an additional venue to try to take down Raffensperger.

In the U.S. Senate race, Walker – whom Trump encouraged to run and endorsed – appears likely to win the GOP primary, despite questions about his thin political resume and past personal behavior.

To the frustration of his Republican primary opponents, Walker has run a stealth campaign, skipping primary debates, avoiding the media, and making a few carefully crafted public appearances. While that lack of exposure seems to have served him well in the primary, the question will be whether it will work in the fall against Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock, who possesses significant political skills.

Alabama

Trump initially endorsed Brooks, one of his strongest supporters in the House who led the charge in disputing the 2020 election results. But after Brooks’s poll numbers sank and he urged Republicans to move on from 2020, Trump pulled the endorsement, which was seen at the time as the death knell for Brooks.

However, recent polling indicates a surge of support for Brooks, mostly at the expense of political newcomer Mike Durant, which could propel him into the June 21 runoff against Katie Britt, a former top aide to retiring U.S. Senator Richard Shelby.

Both Britt and Durant have been angling for Trump’s endorsement, to no avail. A Britt-vs-Brooks runoff would put him in the awkward position of either re-endorsing Brooks or supporting Britt, who is backed by Republican establishment figures of whom Trump has been critical. Or he could stay out of the race.

Republican Governor Kay Ivey is facing a gaggle of primary challengers, including Lindy Blanchard, a former Trump ambassador whom he reportedly encouraged to leave the Senate race challenge Ivey. Trump was reportedly miffed at the governor over cancellation of one of his rallies at a state park in Mobile, even though she did not make the decision.

However, Trump has not directly endorsed Blanchard, and Ivey – who consistently polls as one of the nation’s most popular governors – is expected to easily see off her primary foes.

Arkansas

Sanders is expected to win the governor’s primary after bigfooting both Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge out of the race. Neither could get any political oxygen after Trump went all in for Sanders and are now running instead for each other’s current offices.

Republican U.S. Senator John Boozman is facing three primary challengers, including Jake Bequette, a former Arkansas Razorbacks star and NFL player who has criticized Boozman as insufficiently supportive of the MAGA agenda. However, Trump endorsed Boozman, who has been highlighting the endorsement in his advertising.

Texas

In Texas, the Republican primary for attorney general has become a contentious battle between Paxton and Bush, pitting Trump’s endorsed champion against the state’s most famous and successful political family.

Unlike other members of his family, George P. Bush has embraced Trump and has been hitting Paxton on his sea of legal troubles – he’s facing criminal charges for insider trading and is being investigated for bribery by the FBI, a probe started by allegations from his own subordinates.

Still, it is worth remembering that Paxton won re-election in 2018 while facing those same criminal charges – and the Bush name may not have the magic it once did among conservatives in the Lone Star State.

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Hot or not, in or out: Our forecast of 2022’s most interesting Southern political races

Trump’s sway will be key metric in outcome of midterm elections across region

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Decision 2022(CFP) — 2022 has dawned, and with it a mid-term election year in which most Southern states will decide who gets to be their governor and congressional races across the region will play a key role in deciding which party controls Congress.

Of the eight Southern states with open races for governor this year, seven will feature incumbents seeking re-election, with the only open race in Arkansas, where former Donald Trump spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders appears on her way to victory.

Nine U.S. Senate seats will be up, with open races in Alabama and North Carolina and Georgia Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock battling for a full term after winning a special election runoff in 2020.

Here is a look at some of the hottest races, and likely biggest political stories, of the upcoming year.

Reapportionment Primary-Palooza

The redrawing of new U.S. House maps after reapportionment has set up two Southern primary contests, one in each party, where incumbents will need to defeat a current colleague to stay in Congress.

In Georgia, Republican mapmakers have pitted Democratic U.S. Reps. Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux against each other in Atlanta’s suburbs. McBath’s existing district in the northwest suburbs became too Republican for her to survive; Bourdeaux’s in the northeast suburbs actually became more Democratic with the addition of areas that had been in McBath’s orbit.

The two women — who campaigned with each other in 2018 and 2020 and differ little politically — will face off in what is likely to be an expensive primary. McBath has a stronger national profile and fundraising operation, but the district now centers on Gwinnett County, which Bourdeaux currently represents.

One caveat is that voting rights groups are suing the block the new map, which, if successful, could provide a wrinkle ahead of the March filing deadline.

In West Virginia, the loss of one of the state’s three U.S. House seats sets up a primary contest between Republican U.S. Reps. David McKinley and Alex Mooney for a new district that includes the northern half of the state.

However, this race will have more of an ideological flavor than the primary in Georgia. Mooney, a former Washington lobbyist who moved to the state in 2014 from Maryland to run for Congress, is a member of the ultra-conservative, anti-establishment Freedom Caucus. McKinley, a seventh-generation West Virginian and former state party chair, is more aligned with the Republican Party’s establishment wing.

Expect to hear a great deal in this race about McKinley’s vote in favor of establishing a bipartisan commission to investigation the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, which Mooney opposed.

The Power of Trump

The former president has already been active in offering endorsements and pursuing revenge, particularly against Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for refusing to indulge his claims of widespread fraud in the state’s 2020 vote.

Trump recruited former U.S. Senator David Perdue to run against Kemp, setting off what is likely to be a bare-knuckled brawl in the Republican primary ahead of a stiff challenge from Democrat Stacey Abrams. He also endorsed U.S. Rep. Jody Hice’s bid to unseat Raffensperger.

And in one of the strangest early developments of the 2020 campaign, Trump also reportedly encouraged his former ambassador to Slovenia, Lindy Blanchard, to drop out of the U.S. Senate race to run instead against the very popular Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, in a fit of pique over cancellation of a July 4th Trump rally (a decision Ivey did not actually make.)

Trump has also waded into the attorney general’s race in Texas with an endorsement of incumbent Ken Paxton, who has drawn a gaggle of primary challengers (including Bush family scion George P. Bush and stalwart pro-Trump U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert) after a criminal indictment and FBI bribery investigation.

Taking down Ivey would seem a long shot at this point; Kemp is holding his own against Perdue in early polls; and Paxton race seems likely to be headed to an unpredictable runoff in March. So it remains to be seen whether the Trump endorsement machine will produce results in 2022.

Trump has also endorsed in three U.S. Senate races. In Georgia, his nod put Herschel Walker on a glide path to the Republican nomination, but his chosen candidates in Alabama (U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks) and North Carolina (U.S. Rep. Ted Budd) are facing tough primary battles against more establishment candidates.

Adding to the MAGA Squad

Trump’s election has led to the rise of a core group of MAGA-philes in the House – social media savvy, outspoken, and willing to pounce on fellow Republicans who display the slightest scrap of bipartisanship. Among this group are Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, Florida’s Matt Gaetz, the aforementioned Gohmert and Brooks, and North Carolina’s Madison Cawthorn.

In 2022, they are hoping to add to their numbers by offering endorsements and fundraising help to like-minded candidates across the South and around the country, which will put them in position to be power brokers if Republicans take control of the House (a prospect likely to give House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy heartburn.)

Some of these candidates are little known and will face tough climbs against incumbent Republicans. But it is worth noting that both Greene and Cawthorn followed this same playbook successfully in 2020, going from unknowns to the halls of Congress with lightning speed.

Southern Black Woman in the U.S. Senate?

No black woman has ever been elected to represent a Southern state in the Senate. This year, Democrats are poised to pick two black women as their Senate nominees – U.S. Rep. Val Demings in Florida and Cheri Beasley in North Carolina.

Demings, the former police chief of Orlando who served on the first House impeachment committee that investigated Trump, faces an uphill climb against Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, particularly with his strong core of support among Hispanic voters in South Florida. But with her national profile, she has been posting strong fundraising numbers that could make the race competitive.

Beasley, the former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, may have better prospects in running for an open seat in a race where Republicans are slogging through a multi-candidate race in which Trump has intervened in favor of Budd.

A victory by either in November will make history.

Palmetto State “RINOs”

The most serious insult that can be hurled in Republican politics these days is to call someone a RINO – a Republican in Name Only.

Two incumbent U.S. House members in South Carolina have been branded with the RINO label by their critics – Nancy Mace in the Lowcountry and Tom Rice in the Pee Dee – and are each facing multiple challengers in their respective Republican primaries.

Mace was among the few Republican House members to offer criticism of Trump after the January 6th Capitol attack, although she did not vote to impeach him. Rice did, which got him censured by the state’s Republican Party, and he compounded his sin among the MAGA fervency by supporting the bipartisan commission to investigate the attacks.

As a result, Mace has four GOP challengers; Rice has 12. Trump has encouraged their challengers but has yet to announce a favorite. His blessing may be good enough to earn a runoff slot against the incumbent.

Thinking Outside The Box

After Warnock won a January special U.S. Senate election runoff in Georgia, he immediately become the Republicans’ primary 2022 target. Yet, no sitting U.S. House member ventured to take him on, nor did the three Republicans who ran against him in 2020.

Enter Herschel Walker, University of Georgia football hero and NFL standout. Though he carries significant personal baggage and has not a whiff of political experience, he does have the one accessory every Republican candidate wants in 2022 – Trump’s blessing.

Trump’s endorsement didn’t clear the primary field, but it did get Republican Senate leaders in Washgington behind Walker’s candidacy – taking a significant leap of faith in a race against a charismatic Democrat with Obama-level political skills.

Is this a gamble that will pay off or blow up? The answer may decide control of the Senate.

Beto O’Crist for Governor

The good people of Texas told Beto O’Rourke that they didn’t want him to be their senator in 2018, even after he spent $80 million trying to persuade them otherwise. The good people of Iowa and New Hampshire told him they didn’t want him to be their president in 2020, without nearly as much money going down the drain.

But not willing to take no and no for an answer, O’Rourke is back again, running this time for governor against incumbent Republican Greg Abbott. Only this time, he’s running in the gun-loving Lone Star State after telling a Democratic presidential debate audience that he was in favor of confiscating their assault weapons.

But lest you think Beto is the region’s most resolute embracer of questionable causes, he pales in comparison to Florida’s well-tanned political chameleon Charlie Crist, who is running for governor again this year after losing two statewide races in the past eight years and metamorphosing from a conservative Republican into an independent and then into a liberal Democrat.

Which begs the question: What part of “no” don’t you understand?

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Georgia GOP Civil War: David Perdue will try to unseat Gov. Brian Kemp

Perdue launches primary fight with incumbent after Donald Trump’s encouragement

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

GeorgiaATLANTA (CFP) – Former Georgia U.S. Senator David Perdue is running to unseat fellow Republican and former political ally Governor Brian Kemp in next May’s party primary, setting off what’s likely to be a contentious and divisive battle armed with an endorsement from Donald Trump.

perdue announcement

Former Georgia U.S. Senator David Perdue announces run for governor

Perdue launched his campaign in a December 6 video, in which he said Kemp can’t beat likely Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams and blaming him, rather than Trump, for the loss of two U.S. Senate runoffs in January.

“I like Brian. This isn’t personal. It’s simple. He failed all of us and cannot win in November,” Perdue said. “If our governor was ever going to fight for us, wouldn’t ne have done it already?”

Perdue also cast the prospect of Abrams as governor in apocalyptic terms.

“Make no mistake – Abrams will smile, lie and cheat to try and transform Georgia into her radical vision of the state that would look more like California or New York,” he said. “Over my dead body will we ever give Stacey Abrams control of our elections again.”

Video of Perdue’s announcement at end of story

Perdue, 71, was elected to the Senate in 2014. He lost his seat in January when he was defeated by Democratic U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff in a runoff.

He and his politically connected family had, until Monday’s announcement, been allies of Kemp. Perdue’s cousin, former Governor Sonny Perdue, appointed Kemp as secretary of state in 2010 and helped persuade Trump to endorse Kemp during his first run for governor in 2018.

One of the key issues in the primary campaign will be who is responsible for Republicans losing both Perdue’s seat and the seat of Kelly Loeffler in the January runoffs, which came two months after Joe Biden became the first Democrat to carry Georgia in 28 years.

In his launch video, Perdue implied that the decision by Kemp and Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to enter into a consent agreement with a voting rights group led by Abrams about verification of absentee ballot signatures led to the GOP’s defeat – a theory Trump has repeatedly advanced.

“Instead of protecting our elections, he caved into Abrams and cost us two Senate seats, the Senate majority, and gave Joe Biden free rein,” he said.

However, three different audits of Georgia’s 2020 election results have turned up no evidence of absentee ballot fraud. And results of the runoffs show that Perdue and Loeffler may have been done in by weak Republican turnout, after weeks of claims by Trump that state elections couldn’t be trusted.

Both Kemp and Raffensperger, who is in charge of state elections, refused to go along with attempts by Trump to overturn the state’s results, which are now the subject of a criminal investigation by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

Trump turned on both Kemp and Raffensperger after the November election and has been encouraging primary challengers to unseat both of them.  He enthusiastically greeted the news of Perdue’s candidacy and offered what he termed “my Complete and Total Endorsement.”

“This will be very interesting, and I can’t imagine that Brian Kemp, who has hurt election integrity in Georgia so badly, can do well at the ballot box (unless the election is rigged, of course),” Trump said in a statement.

There was no immediate response from Kemp to Perdue’s announcement, although the Washington Post quoted a Kemp spokesman as saying Perdue was running to “soothe his own bruised ego” after losing the Senate race.

As Kemp and Perdue battle it out on the Republican side, Abrams – who lost to Kemp by 55,000 votes in 2018 — is likely to face only token opposition in her primary, allowing her to save money for the November general election.

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Democrat Stacey Abrams launches another run for Georgia governor

Former state legislator narrowly lost to Republican Governor Brian Kemp in 2018

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

GeorgiaATLANTA (CFP) — Democrat Stacey Abrams has launched a new bid for Georgia governor, setting up a possible rematch with Republican Governor Brian Kemp — if he can get through his party’s primary in the face of fierce opposition from Donald Trump.

abrams

Governor candidate Stacey Abrams, D-Georgia

Abrams, 47, a former state legislator who founded a voting rights group after her 2018 loss to Kemp, announced her candidacy in a video posted on Twitter December 1, reviving the “one Georgia” theme that was central to her 2018 campaign.

“If our Georgia is going to move to its next and greatest chapter, we’re going to need leadership,” she said. “Leadership that knows how to do the job. Leadership that doesn’t take credit without also taking responsibility. Leadership that understands the true pain folks are felling and has real plans.”

In 2018, Abrams lost to Kemp by 55,000 votes, coming closer to winning the governorship than any Democrat had in two decades. She acknowledged Kemp’s win but refused to formally concede, alleging that voting suppression tactics had tainted the outcome.

At the time, Kemp was in charge of state elections as secretary of state.

After her loss, Abrams founded a voting rights group, Fair Fight, and led an effort to mobilize Democratic voters that was widely credited with Joe Biden’s win in Georgia in 2020 and victories in two U.S. Senate runoffs.

While she is unlikely to face any significant opposition in the Democratic primary, Kemp may not have that luxury.

Trump — angry that Kemp didn’t go along with efforts to overturn the 2020 results in Georgia — has been encouraging Republicans to try to take the governor down in a primary. His criticism has taken a toll on Kemp’s approval rating, which stood at just 42% in a recent Morning Consult poll.

Former U.S. Senator David Perdue is reportedly considering launching a primary challenge, which could plunge Republicans into ugly combat as Abrams stands by turning her national profile into a mountain of cash.

If elected, Abrams would be the first woman and the first person of color to serve as the state’s chief executive. However, Democrats haven’t won a governor’s race since 1998.

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West Virginia’s Jim Justice is South’s most popular governor; Georgia’s Brian Kemp the least

Morning Consult poll shows Democratic governors with aggressive COVID-19 strategies with higher approval than GOP governors who have resisted mandates

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) – West Virginia Governor Jim Justice is the South’s most popular chief executive, with Alabama’s Kay Ivey close behind in new polls on gubernatorial approval from the polling firm Morning Consult.

The polls, taken over the course of the last four months and released November 11, also show that Georgia Republican Brian Kemp’s approval rating among registered voters was just 42%, making him the region’s least popular chief executive as he heads into what is expected to be a tough re-election battle next year against furious opposition from Donald Trump.

The poll in Kentucky had better news for Democrat Andy Beshear, whose approval rating stood at 54%, despite taking considerable fire from Republicans over his COVID-19 policies.

Beshear will face voters again in 2023, as will Mississippi Republican Tate Reeves. However, the approval rating for Reeves, who may face a primary challenge from House Speaker Philip Gunn, stood at just 49%, making him and Kemp the only two Southern governors with approval ratings below 50% ahead of a run for his third term.

Morning Consult did not report disapproval numbers, so it was unclear if Reeves and Kemp were actually under water in their approval numbers, with more people disapproving than approving.

The approval rating for Florida Republican Ron DeSantis, who has taken the leading in fighting mask and vaccine mandates, stood at 52% ahead of a Democratic challenge in 2022. Texas’s Greg Abbott, who has taken a similar line of resistance against mandates, had an approval rating of 50%.

Three of the region’s Democratic governors who have been more aggressive with COVID-19 mitigation measures – Beshear, North Carolina’s Roy Cooper and Louisiana’s John Bel Edwards – had higher approval ratings than DeSantis and Abbott, although within the poll’s margin of error.

Justice’s approval rating stood at 65%, despite a string of headlines about financial and regulatory problems for companies owned by his family and an odd dispute about whether he should be hired to coach a boy’s high school basketball team.

Ivey, who became governor in 2017 when her predecessor resigned in a sex scandal, had an approval rating at 62%, as she heads into a re-election race in which she will be heavily favored.

However, she, too, has run afoul of Trump over cancellation of a June rally in Mobile, and he is reportedly trying to find a primary challenger to run against her.

Tennessee’s Bill Lee and Oklahoma’s Kevin Stitt also appear to be in strong shape for 2022, with Lee’s approval at 55% and Stitt’s at 54%.

The other Southern governor up next year, South Carolina’s Henry McMaster, stood at 52%.

Arkansas’s Asa Hutchinson has a 57% approval rating as he heads toward the exit due to term limits – despite being one of the very few elected Republicans willing to offer criticism of Trump.

Hutchinson has said he will not back Trump if he runs for the White House again in 2024 and that relitigating the 2020 election would be a “recipe for disaster.” He has raised his national profile in recent months, with numerous appearances on Sunday talk shows, prompting speculation that he might make his own presidential run in 2024.

Kemp has drawn Trump’s active wrath for refusing to go along with his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in the Peach State. Former Republican U.S. Senator David Perdue is considering a primary challenge, and the GOP nominee will likely be facing Democrat Stacey Abrams, whom Kemp narrowly beat in 2018.

Two Southern Democratic governors who are in the middle of their second and final term – Edwards and Cooper – had positive approval ratings, at 53% and 52%, respectively.

Morning Consult gathered the responses from July 21 to October 20 among registered voters in each state. The margin of error was +/-4%.

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