Capitol Recap: Georgia Republicans hold out hope for Trump-Kemp truce

Scenes like this one from November 2018 are unlikely, but some Georgia Republicans are working to forge a truce between former President Donald Trump, left, and Gov. Brian Kemp ahead of November's election. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

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Scenes like this one from November 2018 are unlikely, but some Georgia Republicans are working to forge a truce between former President Donald Trump, left, and Gov. Brian Kemp ahead of November's election. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Getting former president to ease up on governor won’t be easy

Don’t expect Donald Trump and Brian Kemp to become chummy, but some Georgia Republicans hope they can persuade the former president to tone down the enmity he’s aimed at the governor.

In his bid for reelection, Kemp faces Democrat Stacey Abrams once again after beating her in 2018 by less than 1.4 percentage points.

If he’s going to win again, he’ll need GOP voters to come out for him with the same vigor as last time. That may not happen if even just some of Trump’s Georgia supporters opt to sit out the election, as they did in January 2021 when Democrats swept the state’s two U.S. Senate runoffs.

Now, some Republicans are pursuing a truce between the two camps. They’re hoping to avoid a repeat of Trump’s appearance last year at a rally in Perry where he suggested that Abrams “might be better than having your existing governor.”

Trump, who blames Kemp for his loss in Georgia during the 2020 president election, still appears to be entertaining that idea.

It was Trump who pushed former U.S. Sen. David Perdue to challenge Kemp in the Republican primary. That didn’t work out so well for the former president: Kemp won by nearly 52 percentage points.

Among those seeking a truce is Derrick Dickey, a longtime Perdue aide who is also trusted in Trump circles.

Dickey urged Perdue to take a hard pass on the idea of running against Kemp. He then led an outside group that spent big to help the governor’s reelection bid.

He and others, hoping it might help sway Trump to use his inside voice when criticizing Kemp, have pointed out that the governor never “once said a bad word” about the former president.

But Kemp did do something that two people close to Trump say could be a deal breaker: The governor got former Vice President Mike Pence to headline a rally on the eve of the primary.

Trump and Pence are now about as cozy as Trump and Kemp. They’ve set out on separate courses now that they’re potential rivals for the Republican nomination for president in 2024. The relationship certainly got chillier once word came out that the U.S. House panel investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol had collected testimony that Trump indicated his support when the rioters chanted “Hang Mike Pence!”

While Kemp’s big victory persuaded some of his foes, including Perdue and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, to get behind the governor, Trump may have gone even further in the other direction. Following the primary, he sent out an email blast stating “Something stinks in Georgia.” It included a link to an essay by a far-right writer stating that Kemp’s victory of 73.71% to 21.79% for Perdue was proof of “obvious fraud.”

One senior Republican responded by texting: “This is why we have two Democratic senators.”

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams' One Georgia leadership committee aired its first television ad, focusing on Gov. Brian Kemp's stances on guns and abortion.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams' One Georgia leadership committee aired its first television ad, focusing on Gov. Brian Kemp's stances on guns and abortion.

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams' One Georgia leadership committee aired its first television ad, focusing on Gov. Brian Kemp's stances on guns and abortion.

Abrams puts focus on guns, abortion

Stacey Abrams opened the general-election phase of her campaign for governor by focusing her first television ad on guns and abortion.

Both are issues Democrats hope will energize their voters in November following recent news developments.

The first involved the leaking of a U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion that indicates justices could overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, throwing control over the procedure back to the states.

The second was the mass shooting last month at a school in Uvalde, Texas, that killed two teachers and 19 students. Democrats have responded to the massacre with calls for more restrictions on firearms.

Abrams’ first ad, launched by her One Georgia leadership committee, hits Gov. Brian Kemp on both issues.

It highlights his support for legislation approved earlier this year to allow the permitless carrying of concealed weapons.

The ad also attacks Kemp’s anti-abortion stance.

“He rolled back women’s rights, vowing to make abortion a crime with 10 years in prison,” a narrator says in the ad, adding: “Just when we need to move forward, Brian Kemp keeps taking us back.”

The ad cites Kemp’s initial support in 2019 for a “trigger law” that would ban almost all abortions if Roe v. Wade was overturned. He then endorsed a separate proposal to ban abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected — typically six weeks into a pregnancy, before most women know they’re pregnant.

That bill became law, although a federal judge put a hold on it to see how the U.S. Supreme Court would rule in a Mississippi case — the one addressed in the leaked opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito that indicates Roe v. Wade will be overturned, most likely this month.

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Charlie Hayslett writes on the website Trouble in God's Country that Georgia's 105 smallest counties are experiencing deep pain. Combined, they fare worse than Mississippi (the actual worst state) for per capita income, have more high school dropouts than college graduates, and a premature death rate 50% worse than the rest of the state. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Charlie Hayslett writes on the website Trouble in God's Country that Georgia's 105 smallest counties are experiencing deep pain. Combined, they fare worse than Mississippi (the actual worst state) for per capita income, have more high school dropouts than college graduates, and a premature death rate 50% worse than the rest of the state. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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Charlie Hayslett writes on the website Trouble in God's Country that Georgia's 105 smallest counties are experiencing deep pain. Combined, they fare worse than Mississippi (the actual worst state) for per capita income, have more high school dropouts than college graduates, and a premature death rate 50% worse than the rest of the state. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

‘Inelegant’ comment by Abrams brings attention to rural Georgia’s woes

Stacey Abrams handed Republicans the sound bite of their dreams during a recent meeting of Gwinnett County Democrats when she said, “I’m tired of hearing that Georgia is the best place to do business when Georgia is the worst place to live.”

But Charlie Hayslett, who tracks data on rural Georgia on his website Trouble in God’s Country, writes that for many of the state’s residents, numbers show there’s some truth in what Abrams said.

“Abrams has since acknowledged her statement was ‘inelegant’ but she’s doubled down on her central point — and she’s right to do so,” Hayslett wrote. “In the process, she may have set in motion a long-overdue gubernatorial debate over what to do about the trouble in God’s country.”

Focusing on data from the 105 smallest of Georgia’s 159 counties, Hayslett writes that combined they fare much worse than Mississippi (the actual worst state) for per capita income, have more high school dropouts than college graduates, and a premature death rate 50% worse than the rest of the state.

Hayslett also notes that Abrams isn’t likely to find many votes in those 105 counties. In the 2018 governor’s race, they combined to give 71% of their vote to Republican Brian Kemp and only 28% to Abrams.

“But even if Abrams fails to cut into the GOP’s rural stronghold and comes up short again,” Hayslett wrote, “she appears certain to force a long-overdue political discussion about the trouble in God’s country — and that will be no small public service.”

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After redesigning its voter registration website again, the Georgia Department of Driver Services Georgia Department of Driver Services resumed signing up eligible voters by default. Data provided by the department shows that 72% of citizens submitted voter registration information in April, up from 27% in March.

After redesigning its voter registration website again, the Georgia Department of Driver Services Georgia Department of Driver Services resumed signing up eligible voters by default. Data provided by the department shows that 72% of citizens submitted voter registration information in April, up from 27% in March.

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After redesigning its voter registration website again, the Georgia Department of Driver Services Georgia Department of Driver Services resumed signing up eligible voters by default. Data provided by the department shows that 72% of citizens submitted voter registration information in April, up from 27% in March.

Automatic voter registrations climb back after change to website

Voter registrations soared in April after the Georgia Department of Driver Services resumed signing up eligible voters by default unless they opted out.

Data provided by the department shows that 72% of citizens submitted voter registration information in April, up from 27% in March. In raw numbers, that amounts to 106,000 registration applications in April, compared with 46,000 in March.

The numbers had been down for 15 months, following the department’s redesign of its registration website in January 2021. Instead of registering drivers by default, the website required drivers to click “Yes” or “No” when asked whether they wanted to sign up.

The agency ditched the “Yes” or “No” format in March, exchanging it for an “opt-out” button for those who didn’t want to register. Now, unless they opt out, all eligible Georgians become active voters by pushing “Next” on the online form when applying for or renewing a driver’s license.

The most recent redesign of the website followed reporting by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about declines in voter registrations. The addition of the “opt-out” button came after the department was contacted by the Center for Secure and Modern Elections, a nonprofit organization that advocates for automatic voter registration.

“We immediately took action,” DDS spokeswoman Susan Sports said. “The rates of opt-out clearly reduced after the presentation changes were made.”

Georgia had drawn praise after adopting automatic voter registration in September 2016. The state’s voter rolls grew from 6.6 million that year to the current 7.7 million. Georgia is one of 22 states that offers automatic registration through driver’s license offices.

In addition to boosting voter rolls, automatic registration increases election security by verifying voters’ information — such as addresses — and matching it to a photo ID before they’re registered.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, however, is not a fan. He recently said he supports legislation to end automatic registration.

“People should be asked the question to have a choice: ‘Would you like to be registered or would you not?’ And then we would respond ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ " Raffensperger, who is seeking reelection, said during a debate ahead of the state’s May 24 primary. “That would be the update that we should have, and the General Assembly should pass that.”

Primary is over, but Democrats remain divided over state Senate race

State Rep. Beth Moore formally conceded the Democratic primary for Senate District 7 to liberal activist Nabilah Islam.

But Moore still had plenty to say about how Islam ran her campaign, describing it in a letter to supporters as rooted in misinformation.

“Democrats launching false attack ads against fellow Democrats — or anyone else for that matter — to intentionally misinform voters should be viewed as a cancer on our party and country. It must be rejected, lest we let evil take over and turn good people away from serving,” Moore said. “I’m sorry I was unable to prevent it from being rewarded in this case.”

Multiple mailers went out to Gwinnett County voters ahead of the primary that accused Moore of voter suppression and “siding with Republicans to make it harder to vote.”

A group of Democratic lawmakers came to Moore’s aid before the primary, joining in a letter that supported Moore and scolded Islam for using what they called “Trump-like tactics.”

“We, as Democratic leaders in Gwinnett County, stand together to denounce Nabilah Islam’s false and misleading attack ads against Beth Moore,” wrote the legislators, who included state Rep. Jasmine Clark, state Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick and state Rep. Sam Park.

Islam won the primary by 77 votes.

Political expedience

  • Walker unhappy with Trump: Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker directed some anger toward former President Donald Trump during an appearance on “Love and Respect,” a show on WABE hosted by Atlanta-born rapper and entrepreneur Killer Mike. Trump had promoted Walker as a potential candidate for the Senate, but the former football star said the former president never talked to him about it directly. “He never asked,” Walker said, “so I’m mad at him because he’s taking credit but he never asked.”
  • Clyde loses appeal over mask fines: The U.S. House Ethics Committee has denied an appeal by U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Athens, who has been fined for refusing to wear a mask on the House floor earlier this year when it was still required as a hedge against COVID-19. The House sergeant at arms referred seven citations to the committee.
  • Atlanta one of four still vying for Democratic National Convention: A Democratic Party official told The Atlanta Journal-Consititution that Atlanta is a finalist for the party’s 2024 convention. Also in the running for the shindig are Chicago, Houston and New York City.
  • Trump says Georgia primary worked out ‘great’ for him: Donald Trump was recently in Wyoming, but it was Georgia that was still on his mind. “We actually did great in Georgia,” he said at a rally, discussing a primary where he saw his candidates for governor, secretary of state, attorney general and insurance commissioner go down by big margins. (He did back the right horses for the U.S. Senate and lieutenant governor.)
  • Abrams backs Bailey, Nguyen: Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams has endorsed Charlie Bailey for lieutenant governor and state Rep. Bee Nguyen for secretary of state in Democratic primary runoffs on June 21.
  • Former rivals get behind Dawkins-Haigler: Former state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler, running in the Democratic primary runoff for secretary of state, picked up endorsements from three candidates who fell short in last month’s primary: former Fulton County Commission Chair John Eaves, former state Sen. Floyd Griffin Jr. and former Cobb County Democratic Chair Michael Owens. Dawkins-Haigler also gained the support of state Reps. Billy Mitchell and Sandra Scott.
  • Thurmond backs Boddie for his former job: DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond, a former state labor commissioner, has endorsed state Sen. William Boddie in the Democratic runoff for the same position. Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is also backing Boddie.
  • West gains support in congressional bid: Chris West, competing in the Republican primary runoff in the 2nd Congressional District, picked up endorsements from a pair of competitors who didn’t make it that far: Vivian Childs and Paul Whitehead. Some big names in the state GOP are also helping with West’s fundraising, including state Sen. Dean Burke and Alec Poitevint, a former state GOP chair with ties to former Gov. Sonny Perdue.
  • Evans draws support from rivals: Jake Evans’ campaign in the 6th Congressional District GOP runoff has gained the backing of Byron Gatewood and Paulette Smith, who each ran in the primary.
  • Two competitors side with Collins: Mitchell Swan and Marc McMain, who each ran in the 10th Congressional District’s GOP primary, are throwing their support behind Mike Collins in the runoff.
  • Legislator backs Jones: State Rep. Tom Kirby of Loganville has endorsed Vernon Jones in the 10th Congressional District’s GOP runoff.

More top stories online

Here’s a sample of other stories about Georgia government and politics that can be found at www.ajc.com/politics/: