Georgia is one of the rare states with two primaries, and a runoff election today just named Secretary of State Brian Kemp as the Republican nominee for Governor.
Kemp ran against Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle for an opportunity to face off against Democrat Stacey Abrams in the fall. Kemp, who has been endorsed by Donald Trump, has made headlines with ads featuring guns and explosions, in which he said “I got a big truck, just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take ‘em home myself.” (A previous Republican candidate for governor, Michael Williams, campaigned on a “deportation bus” before he was eliminated in the May primary.)
Both Kemp and Trump have made it clear that Kemp would be the candidate to enact Trump’s extremist policies in Georgia. “As governor, I will unapologetically stand with President Trump to secure our border, deport criminal aliens, crush gangs and ensure a bright and promising future for our families,” Kemp said after receiving Trump’s endorsement.
Though no Democrat has won statewide office in Georgia since 2000, Trump did not win overwhelmingly there in 2016, and Democrats believe Georgia could be a swing state in 2020. A recent NBC News poll found that Trump’s approval numbers are lowest in Georgia compared to the rest of the south. Since Trump’s election, Democrats have seen the election of Doug Jones, the first Democrat to hold a Senate seat in neighboring Alabama in 25 years, as well as the near-victory of Jon Ossoff, a progressive who nearly won a special House election in Georgia in a safe Republican district.
Meanwhile, Stacey Abrams, who would become the first black woman governor ever, has carved out a strategy that mobilizes a coalition of young voters, voters of color, and moderate women. As the New York Times recently noted, Georgia’s black residents have become more politically active with Trump in the White House, with black youth especially interested in voting. The south is the nation’s fastest-growing region, and polls showing voters being turned off by Donald Trump.
While the hate-filled rhetoric and anti-immigrant politics that were on full display during the primary will undoubtedly continue, it may not work this year in Georgia or elsewhere across the country. Polling recently conducted by Latino Decisions found overwhelming support for themes of unity and inclusion. Voters are tired of hostility, attacks, and division. Over 85% of all voters in the poll agreed with this statement: “Today, certain politicians and their greedy lobbyists hurt everyone by handing kickbacks to the rich, de-funding our schools, and threatening our seniors with cuts to Medicare and Social Security. Then they turn around and point the finger for our hard times at poor families, Black people, and new immigrants. We need to join together with people from all walks of life to fight for our future.”
The Georgia GOP gubernatorial primary was reminiscent of the Virginia GOP gubernatorial primary in 2017 when white nationalist Corey Stewart (now the GOP Senate nominee) ran an ugly campaign attacking immigrants. The eventual GOP nominee, Ed Gillespie, kept up that same ugly messaging in his general election campaign — and we suspect Kemp will do the same thing this year in Georgia, especially considering Stacey Abrams’ background and voter mobilization strategy. There was a backlash last year in Virginia — and there could be one in Georgia this year too.