Trump's visit comes at a crucial moment in the tumultuous race for Georgia governor, as polls show Kemp and Abrams in a neck-and-neck race to succeed Gov. Nathan Deal. The two have sparred over every major political debate in Georgia, and they have drawn stars from their parties to boost their campaigns.
Kemp hopes he’ll get the biggest bump from Trump, whom his aides believe can motivate voters in a state he won by 5 percentage points — even if it means alienating independent voters who abhor the president. His campaign strategy relies on ratcheting up high turnout in conservative pockets of the state to withstand losses in urban and suburban areas.
He predicted the rally would give him “the momentum we need” to defy polls showing a tight race, and he told the crowd that a vote for him is a vote for Trump.
“We will help,” he said. “We’ll work hard with this president to continue to make America great again.”
The president's influence among Georgia Republicans is undeniable: More than 91 percent of likely GOP voters said they approved of Trump in the latest Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Channel 2 Action News poll. And Kemp has tied himself to Trump since entering the race, even echoing some of the president's strategies with his "Georgia First" mantra.
Still, after winning the GOP nomination, Kemp’s been more likely to invoke the past two GOP governors — Deal and Sonny Perdue, now Trump’s secretary of agriculture — on the campaign trail than the president. But at this late stage in the race, his campaign aims to wring out as many Trump supporters as it can.
Abrams has long avoided directly attacking Trump, wary of turning the race into a referendum on the president and energizing his GOP supporters. But she said Sunday in a televised appearance that his attacks describing her as “unqualified” are “vapid and shallow.”
“I am the most qualified candidate,” she said, citing her Yale Law School education and legislative and business background. “There is no one more qualified standing for this office in Georgia. And I look forward to having the voters of Georgia say the same.”
Trump was welcomed by many of the state’s top elected GOP officials, including Deal, Perdue and the ag chief’s first cousin, U.S. Sen. David Perdue. Thousands of Trump fans wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats crowded the stage, many holding signs saying “Jobs vs. Mobs” and “Promises Made. Promises Kept.”
Among the throngs was Rose Brown, a Middle Georgia nurse who said the president’s tax-cut plan has reinforced her support for Republican candidates. She worries that Democrats will work to undercut those cuts.
“Socialists and Democrats do not understand that the government gets its money by taking it from the paychecks of working people,” she said.
Ditto for Lee Mitchell, a 60-year-old letter carrier from outside of Culloden. He said he’s “very nervous” going into Tuesday’s vote.
“I’m very much hoping that Kemp’s going to win and that we hold onto the House — because if we don’t, everything is going to stall,” he said.
In a speech that stretched for more than an hour, Trump addressed red-meat issues such as illegal immigration, Hillary Clinton and Democrats’ treatment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
But the president returned repeatedly to attacks on Democrats centering on three themes: public safety, economic development and health care.
He warned that Democratic opposition would damage economic gains over the past two years, and he said Abrams’ victory would trigger more crime.
“She’ll make your schools and neighborhoods unsafe,” he said, “and make your jobs disappear like magic.”
Abrams initially wanted to reverse a state income tax hike, but she has since reversed her stance. And she’s cast her plan to eliminate cash bail and decriminalize some drug offenses as an extension of Deal’s legacy, which has diverted more nonviolent offenders from costly prison cells.
And she warns that Kemp’s support of “religious liberty” will tarnish the state’s pro-business reputation, often invoking the governor’s veto of such legislation.
Trump’s visit was the apex of a gubernatorial race that has unfolded over the past two-plus years and brought multiple presidents and a parade of potential 2020 hopefuls to the state to campaign for Abrams, who is seeking to become the nation’s first black female governor.
Abrams has attracted a string of leading high-profile figures to campaign with her, including media icon Oprah Winfrey and former President Barack Obama in the closing stretch. As he closed, Kemp was eager to mention a list of big-name supporters that included Vice President Mike Pence and two Georgia football legends.
“We’ve got Trump, Pence, Vince Dooley and Herschel Walker,” Kemp said, “to help us make a goal-line stop.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s election reporting is focused on providing you with a deep understanding of the candidates and the key issues facing Georgia voters. We are covering each race from all angles, giving equal weight to the candidates as you prepare to vote Tuesday. Today, we are providing coverage of President Donald Trump’s visit to Macon to support Republican Brian Kemp. In Saturday’s paper, we used the same format and presentation in covering former President Barack Obama’s visit to Atlanta to support Democrat Stacey Abrams.