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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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Genius or gimmick? Georgia GOP puts its Senate hopes on Herschel Walker

With Donald Trump’s blessing, untested Walker poised to claim U.S. Senate nomination. But is he too much of a risk?

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

GeorgiaATLANTA (CFP) — Are Georgia Republicans ready to hand their U.S. Senate nomination to a man who has never run for political office, hasn’t lived in the Peach State for decades, and has a personal history that includes mental health struggles and an ex-wife with a restraining order?

Picture of Georgia U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker

U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker, R-Georgia

With Donald Trump’s enthusiastic endorsement, Hall of Fame football hero Herschel Walker enters the race as the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination to take on Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock next year.  But with control of the Senate on the line, nominating Walker is certainly not the safest path, given the questions he will face about his politics and his past.

Will a Walker candidacy end in strategic triumph or bitter regret? Trump clearly believes the former; Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is reportedly nervous about the latter.

“I’m a kid from a small town in Georgia who’s lived the American dream, and I’m ready to fight to keep that dream alive for you,” said Walker in a campaign kickoff video posted August 25, which contained footage of his Heisman-winning exploits at the University of Georgia, spliced with workouts in the gym.

“I’m a conservative not because someone told me to be. I’m a conservative because I believe in smaller government, a strong military, personal responsibility and making sure all people have the opportunity to pursue their dreams.”

Watch Walker’s announcement video at bottom of page

The video did not mention Trump, who has been encouraging Walker to make a Senate run for months. But his campaign website features a famous photo of Walker doing an elbow bump with the former president during the 2020 presidential campaign.

The campaign rollout was unusual in that Walker entered the race quietly, with a statement and website, rather that with a public event in front of reporters, who might have asked uncomfortable questions.

Walker, 59, was born and raised in Wrightsville, a small town in Middle Georgia. He led UGA’s football team to its only consensus national title in 1980 and, in 1982, won the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s top college football player.

He went on to play professional football, first in the USFL (where he played for a team Trump owned) and then in the NFL, where he retired from the Dallas Cowboys in 1997.

Since his retirement, Walker had been living in Texas, where he established a poultry business. He registered to vote in Georgia just days before entering the Senate race.

In a 2008 book, Walker disclosed that he has suffered from dissociative identity disorder, which used to be called multiple personality disorder. He credited therapy and his Christian faith for his recovery.

In July, the Associated Press published an extensive investigative profile of Walker, based on business and court records. According to the report, Walker’s ex-wife got a protective order in 2005, alleging violent and threatening behavior. Walker was also involved in several contentious disputes with his business partners and may have made exaggerated claims about his record as a businessman.

Walker did not respond to the AP’s requests for comment for the story. Refusing to address the allegations will be much harder to do in the heat of a political campaign.

Walker’s current wife, Julie Blanchard, is also under investigation by Georgia election officials for casting an absentee ballot in the 2020 election, despite residing in Texas. As one of Walker’s rivals for the GOP Senate nomination, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, noted, “it makes it very difficult to talk about voter fraud after that.”

Black, who has won statewide office three times, will certainly be no pushover for Walker. But Trump’s full-throated support for Walker will make his task that much harder, as evidenced by Black’s tepid fundraising in what will become one of the most expensive races of the 2022 cycle. (He’s raised $703,000, compared to $34 million for Warnock.)

The Republican field had been frozen for months as potential Senate candidates waited for Walker’s decision, with several members of Georgia’s U.S. House delegation looking at bids. But there will be very little appetite to take on the Trump-Walker duo.

In a sense, Georgia Republicans find themselves in this situation because of Republican Governor Brian Kemp’s decision to think outside the box and pick uber-wealthy businesswoman Kelly Loeffler for a Senate seat in 2020. She quickly proved to be out of her element against Warnock — with debate performances that were painful to watch — and could not hold the seat.

So is it wise for Georgia Republicans to think outside the box again with Walker, having no idea what kind of political candidate he will make? Particularly against Warnock, equipped as he is with the power of incumbency, a mountain of money, and Barack Obama-level political skills?

Georgia Bulldog fans view Walker fondly, even reverently. But it has been 40 years since he led them to glory — years in which the state has changed almost beyond recognition.

Trump, of course, is the ultimate example of using celebrity to gain political power, which is no doubt why he thinks Walker is a slam-dunk Senate choice.

But time will tell whether nominating Walker is strategic genius or an ill-fated gimmick. Control of the Senate may very well hang on the answer.

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Former Georgia U.S. Rep. Doug Collins won’t seek statewide office in 2022

Republican passes on primary challenge  to Governor Brian Kemp encouraged by Donald Trump

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

GeorgiaATLANTA (CFP) — Former Georgia Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins has announced he won’t seek any statewide office in 2022, deciding to forgo a primary challenge to Governor Brian Kemp or a race against Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock.

In an announcement on Twitter, Collins said he planned to stay active in politics but gave no details of his future plans.

GAcollins_main_decision 2020

Doug Collins

“For those who may wonder, this is goodbye for now, but probably not forever,” he said. “I do plan on staying involved in shaping our conservative message to help Republicans win back the House and the Senate and help more strong conservative candidates get elected here in Georgia.”

Collins, 54, from Gainesville, was elected to represent Georgia’s 9th U.S. House District in 2012 but gave up the seat to run in a special election for a vacant U.S. Senate seat in 2020. He finished third in an all-party contest, which Warnock won in a runoff.

After the 2020 election, Donald Trump, unhappy that Kemp wasn’t doing more to help him overturn his election loss in Georgia, publicly urged Collins to challenge Kemp in this year’s GOP primary.

Collins — one of Trump’s staunchest defenders in the House — could have posed a threat to Kemp with Trump behind him, which has now been removed with his decision not to run.

Kemp has so far drawn only one significant Republican challenger — Vernon Jones, a former Democrat who served as chief executive of DeKalb County before switching parties to support Trump in 2020.

Collins is the second major Republican to take a pass on the Senate race against Warnock, joining former U.S. Senator David Perdue.

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