The other Georgia slugfest: a Brian Kemp-Stacey Abrams rematch

Trump’s sustained attacks on Kemp over his refusal to overturn Biden’s victory in the state are making the Georgia governor even more vulnerable, and Trump has threatened to back a primary challenger against Kemp next year. All of that is hurting the GOP’s standing in the historically red state at a time when Democrats are continuing to make significant inroads here.

“I absolutely believe we’ve got a shot at every statewide office in 2022,” said Kelly Girtz, the Democratic mayor of Athens, the north Georgia college town. “That would have been true already given the strength of the candidates we’re going to have on the ballot. But it doesn’t hurt that Trump is continuing to kick sand in everybody’s face.”

Abrams, the former state House minority leader whom national Democrats unsuccessfully recruited to run for Senate this year, is staying far away from the Republicans’ imbroglio. But the powerhouse group she created after losing to Kemp in 2018, Fair Fight, raised more than $22 million in the final month before the election, registered thousands of new voters and significantly improved Democrats’ ground game here.

And although she did not attend Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ rally for Ossoff and Warnock in neighboring Garden City on Sunday night, Democrats celebrated her efforts to register and turn out more Georgians, particularly African Americans.

On the eve of the runoffs that will determine which party controls the Senate, Georgia Republicans are also thinking about turnout to counter Democrats’ strong early-vote numbers. They view Trump as their best asset to gin up the GOP base, but they’re increasingly worrying about the turmoil he has unleashed.

“Most Republicans are not going to say it publicly, but while the president has been clear in supporting David and Kelly, at the same time he’s been hurting the Georgia Republican Party,” said former Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), a Kemp ally who lost to Perdue in the 2014 Senate primary. “And we need every vote we can get. We need unity. And that’s a challenge right now.”

It won’t just be a gubernatorial race shaping Georgia’s political future next year: The state will have yet another Senate race, when either Loeffler or Warnock will face reelection to a full term. Republicans say their goal is to blunt the Abrams-led efforts to build on Biden’s 2020 victory — or just play catch-up.

“I’m excited about the fact that Georgia is a competitive state, that this is a nail-biter,” Abrams said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And my hope is that Democrats will show up and demonstrate that November is the beginning of a pattern.”

Trump’s persistent attacks on Kemp are dividing the GOP at a time when the party needs total unity. Rich McCormick, a Republican who narrowly lost a suburban Atlanta House race in November, was even more direct, arguing that Trump’s attacks on Kemp make the governor more vulnerable in 2022.

“There’s a phrase in the military: You praise in public and admonish in private,” McCormick said after rallying with Loeffler and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in suburban Atlanta on Saturday. “I really think that we can divide our party to the point that we don’t win the next election, when we could otherwise win it.”

Republicans are counting on Trump to help put Loeffler and Perdue over the top and thus retain the party’s control of the Senate. They view Trump’s visit to northwest Georgia on Monday night as critical to getting the president’s supporters to the polls. Kemp is unlikely to attend the rally, according to two people familiar with the planning.

“It’s certainly not helpful to Gov. Kemp, and the president knows that. But that’s the president,” McCormick said of Trump’s attacks. “He fights. When he sees anything he doesn’t like, he immediately speaks out. He doesn’t want to think about the ultimate consequences of how that’s going to affect everybody else, because he’s a fighter. That’s what he does.”

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