COMMERCE — Thousands of supporters arrived hours early at a former drag strip northeast of Atlanta to cheer former President Donald Trump and the slate of seven Republicans he’s endorsed at the center of his effort to refashion the state GOP in his image.

Live updates follow below:

9:40 p.m.: “In conclusion,” Trump says after 90 minutes of speaking. Five minutes later, “We will make America great again.”

9:38 p.m.: The former president brings back more familiar grievances from his last administration, including “the Russia hoax,” “Impeachment hoax number one,” and “Impeachment hoax number 2.”

9:32: Trump says 2022 is the year Republicans take back the House and Senate. “We need a landslide so big they can’t rig it or steal it.” Also, David Perdue will also “save Georgia from Stacey Abrams.”

Then in 2024, Most importantly, we are going to take back that gorgeous, beautiful, breathtaking White House.”

9:15: One hour in, Trump starts dropping profanity into his remarks, going on and off the teleprompter, occasionally adlibbing about NATO, John Kerry, gas prices, grocery prices, his book sales, shopping at Tiffany, Democrats’ spending levels, and ending COVID mandates.

Ending COVID mandates, “banning Critical Race Theory,” and “protecting women’s sports,” get the biggest applause of the late section of the speech.

9:10: Trump brings up members of his anti-Kemp slate up to the stage one by one, including David Perdue, Rep. Jody Hice, Burt Jones, John Gordon, Herschel Walker, Vernon Jones, Patrick Witt, Rep. Andrew Clyde, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Each candidate focuses their remarks praising Trump.

Gordon says he is running to “defend (Trump’s) honor.” Greene calls Trump, “the greatest president of my lifetime.”

“We’re going to get out in 2024 and we’re going to send our favorite president right back where he belongs, in the White House,” Greene says.

8:53 p.m.: So far, Trump has talked almost entirely about his own term in office, with an early passage about Kemp and the elections. He’s mentioned only David Perdue and Herschel Walker from his slate of candidates.

The crowd perks up occasionally, especially at the talk of the elections, but the old yarns about Kim Jong Un and the Trump years aren’t getting a huge reaction.

8:42 p.m.: The former president goes into foreign policy, criticizing President Joe Biden for the invasion of Ukraine and saying, “It’s a very good possibility” that China will invade Taiwan, too.

“We were respected as a country like never before,” he he was president, Trump says.

Trump brags that the United States has the strongest nuclear arsenal in the world. “I hate to even mention it and I hate having to do it.”

He depicts his administration as peaceful and stable. “It was my personality that kept up the hell out of war.”

8:35 p.m.: After a lengthy recital of election grievances, Trump alludes to running again in 2024. “The truth is we ran twice, we won twice, and now we just may have to do it again.”

8:28 p.m.: Trump launches into familiar, disproven claims that he and David Perdue “got screwed” in the last election and says that Trump voters won’t vote in a general election if Kemp is the nominee.

“Trump voters will not go out and vote for Brian Kemp...if Kemp runs, I think Herschel Walker will be seriously and negatively impacted,” he says. “A vote for Brian Kemp, RINO, is a vote for Democrat Senator who shouldn’t be in the Senate.”

8:15 p.m.: Donald Trump arrives on stage throwing red MAGA caps. He lists his slate of candidates and Herschel Walker gets by far the loudest applause.

“We first have to defeat the RINO sell-outs ad the losers in this state,” Trump says, calling out “RINO Brian Kemp” specifically. “If there’s one thing you need to know about this race, it’s that Brian Kemp sold you out. He didn’t look, he didn’t want to look.”

Trump says Kemp was “scared” of Stacey Abrams.

“Brian Kemp is a turncoat, a coward, and a complete and total disaster.”

7:55 p.m.: We’re still waiting for Donald Trump to begin speaking. He was scheduled to begin at 7:00.

5:41 p.m.: David Perdue starts his speech with Trump’s top issue: “In the state of Georgia, thanks to Brian Kemp, in 2020 our elections were absolutely stolen,” promising to make sure that “whoever was responsible goes to jail.”

Chants of “Lock him up! Lock him up!” follow. Perdue turns around, smiling, at the crowd chanting behind him, and gives them a thumbs up.

Perdue weaves together several local issues, including in Atlanta’s Buckhead and Rutledge, Ga. to argue, “Kemp sold us out.”

“Where’s Brian Kemp? Where’s Brian? He’s not here because he kicked sand in the face of the president.”

Like Burt Jones, Perdue also promises “to get rid of those cursed Dominion (voting) machines.”

Finally, he says, “We will make damn sure that the woke Left never gets control of our great state of Georgia.”

5:40 p.m.: Now it’s former Sen. David Perdue’s turn. “You look pretty good for a bunch of deplorables!” he says.

5:35 p.m.: State Sen. Burt Jones, candidate for lieutenant governor. A former UGA football player as well, Jones says, “I’m running for a lot of the same reasons as Herschel . I’m sick and tired of weak-kneed Republicans.”

Jones focuses quickly on elections, taxes, and schools. “We’ve got to quit indoctrinating our children and start educating them.” Jones says Says schools should “stop teaching CRT” and also talks about banning transgender athletes from school teams. His daughter, he says, plays soccer. “And I’d be real upset if she didn’t make the team because of some little boy wanting to be a little girl.”

“If we don’t have a red wave, it doesn’t play well for us to put Donald Trump in the White House in 2024, but I think we’ve going to have a red wave.”

March 26, 2022 Commerce - Herschel Walker, front-runner for the party’s U.S. Senate nominee, takes a selfie with supporters during a rally for Georgia GOP candidates at Banks County Dragway in Commerce on Saturday, March 26, 2022. (Hyosub Shin /


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5:30 p.m.: Herschel Walker says he’s “sick and tired” of people asking him why he’s running, and then starts his speech by saying it’s time to get women out of men’s sports. Continues list of far-right favorite issues, including critical race theory, gas prices, and supporting the police.

“I’m not here to be a politician, I’m here to be a warrior. That’s what God sent me to do.”

5:25 p.m.: U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker bounds onto the stage to chants of “Herschel! Herschel!”

5:20 p.m.: U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene mixed up her references to space operas as she attacked Democrat Stacey Abrams over her recent cameo on Star Trek.

“Stacey Abrams thinks she’s the president of Earth. Yeah, that’s funny. Let me tell you something: Stacey Abrams is the Death Star and we’re going to take her out,” she said, referring to the Star Wars attack ship.

5 p.m.: One of the biggest mysteries of Trump’s rally was how the crowd would receive the little-known candidates for down-ticket offices just endorsed by the former president. Each received a solid response from Trump fans.

First up was Patrick Witt, a long shot candidate for U.S. House who quit to run for insurance commissioner against incumbent John King. Trump endorsed him as part of his growing vendetta against Gov. Brian Kemp, who appointed King to the job.

Witt acknowledged that few people in the crowd had ever heard of him, let alone understand the intricacies of the job he’s seeking. He said his main job would be to “keep your insurance from going woke.”

John Gordon announced a challenge to Attorney General Chris Carr just before the qualifying deadline, quickly earning Trump’s support because he is targeting another Kemp ally. He called Carr a “do nothing” Republican, and said he would immediately open an investigation into the 2020 election if elected.

And former Democrat Vernon Jones, endorsed by Trump for a U.S. House seat to get him out of the race for governor, took off his jacket to show off a bullseye on his back as he boasted about becoming a target of critics.

4 p.m.: Hundreds camped out overnight near the old Commerce racetrack to get better vantages of the rally, while others trucked in from hundreds of miles away to get a glimpse of the former president and his Georgia allies.

“I’m just truthfully here to see if he will give us some news about what he’s up to in the future,” said Jeannette Fehr, who drove in from Wisconsin for a funeral a week ago and remained in town to hear Trump. “I want him to run. But I really want him back in office now.”

No state will offer a bigger test of Trump’s sway in 2022 than Georgia, where he’s embarked on a yearslong campaign to refashion the state GOP. He’s endorsed seven candidates and promised to defeat Republicans who didn’t help him try to overturn his election defeat.

His attempt to purge Georgia of his perceived Republican enemies ahead of the May 24 primary takes new shape on Saturday in the heart of one of the most conservative parts of the state.

Trump will share the stage with Herschel Walker, the front-runner for the party’s U.S. Senate nomination despite mounting questions about his past, and former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who is racing to gain ground in his primary challenge against Gov. Brian Kemp.

But Trump will also be surrounded by obscure candidates newly added to his slate, selected in part because they help him damage Kemp, whom Trump blames for his defeat in Georgia. After the 2020 vote, Trump demanded that Kemp overturn his election loss in the state, something the governor has no power to do.

They include Vernon Jones, the former Democrat who was persuaded to end his campaign for governor and run for a congressional seat; Patrick Witt, who quit that race for Congress to challenge a Kemp appointee for insurance commissioner; and John Gordon, an unsuccessful state Senate candidate who only recently renewed his law license to compete against Attorney General Chris Carr, another Kemp loyalist.

Once, Trump’s endorsement was the closest thing to a lock in Georgia Republican politics. Few know that better than Kemp, who routed a GOP runoff opponent in 2018 after the then-president endorsed him six days before the election.

But now Trump’s clout is far harder to define — even as more candidates are trying to ride on his coattails. Perdue and other GOP candidates have staked their campaigns on their loyalty to the former president despite signs that his influence is on the wane.

Some Republicans warn that Trump’s brand of politics — and his obsession with his defeat in Georgia — will only come back to haunt GOP candidates in November.

“This trip is about him and his grievance-driven brand of politics,” said Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, “not the future of the state we all love.”

Gov. Brian Kemp campaigned in Augusta ahead of Trump’s visit Saturday. Asked about the former president’s endorsement of Perdue, he said, “My message to folks is I need their endorsement, their vote on May 24. And that’s what I’m going out there, working to do.” He said he wants voters to look at his record. “I can’t control what other people are doing.”

How important is Trump’s endorsement to these supporters? Very.

One, Chrissy Maxwell from Newton, Ga., wore a bejeweled denim Trump hat as she lingered with friends around the food trucks.

Maxwell said she’ll vote for whomever Trump picks, no questions asked.

“I trust him to tell me what to do,” she said. “Jesus and Trump. That’s who I listen to — and sometimes not in that order.”

March 26, 2022 Commerce - David Perdue walks in during a rally for Georgia GOP candidates at Banks County Dragway in Commerce on Saturday, March 26, 2022. (Hyosub Shin /


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