Burt Jones says he ‘might’ run for Georgia governor in 2026

A closer look at how the race for the state’s top job is shaping up
Lt. Gov. Burt Jones speaks to press in the Capitol after the legislative session in Atlanta on Sine Die, Wednesday, March 29, 2023. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones speaks to press in the Capitol after the legislative session in Atlanta on Sine Die, Wednesday, March 29, 2023. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

The race for Georgia governor is three years away, but the maneuvering to succeed a term-limited Brian Kemp is already underway.

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones hasn’t hid his ambitions for higher office, and his sparring with Kemp and other Republican officials was a running subplot of his first session as the Georgia Senate’s leader.

At a Morgan County GOP meeting on Tuesday, he acknowledged to activists that he “might” run for governor -- earning a burst of applause from the audience of dozens and a hearty endorsement from county GOP chair Chris Alexander.

He is one of many Republicans making early moves. Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler has spent heavily to maintain her political network since her 2021 defeat and cultivated support from GOP legislators and local officials. Attorney General Chris Carr and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger also could join the race.

And Republicans are also closely watching Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper, who made a pilgrimage to the Republican Governors Association headquarters this week to “discuss ways to grow and advance the conservative movement in Georgia.”

The Democratic field is wide open, too. Stacey Abrams still hasn’t ruled out a third run for governor, though many activists are divided at the prospect of back-to-back-to-back bids for office.

U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath is seen as one of the party’s top alternatives to Abrams, with a national platform of her own as a gun control advocate. Other contenders could include Jason Carter, the party’s 2014 gubernatorial nominee; Jen Jordan, the runner-up to Carr; and Bee Nguyen, who was defeated by Raffensperger.

Congresswoman Lucy McBath (D-GA) is seen wearing an anti-assault rifle pin at a House Democratic press conference on gun violence on March 29th, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Nathan Posner for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC

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Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC

Jones, meanwhile, is trying to curry favor with the conservatives who will dominate the GOP primary.

He remains an ally of former President Donald Trump, who endorsed him in a competitive primary last year. He’s butted heads with Kemp’s administration over the state’s fiscal priorities and a hospital deregulation plan that could pave the way for a new medical facility that could be built on land owned by Jones’ family.

And Jones recently challenged how the higher education system, led by former Gov. Sonny Perdue, a key Kemp ally, is spending money on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. (He has also worked closely with Kemp on other measures, including several new public safety laws.)

Jones also one of the only top Republicans to align themselves with the Georgia GOP, whose leaders openly courted Trump even as he tried to oust Carr, Kemp, Raffensperger and Insurance Commissioner John King in last year’s midterm.

On Tuesday, Jones drew laughs from Morgan County activists when he noted his plans to attend the Georgia GOP convention in June even as Kemp and other statewide elected Republican officials are set to boycott it.

“It sounds like I’m the only statewide elected official going to it,” Jones quipped. “I hope y’all remember that.”

Here’s a closer look at his other remarks:

On running for governor

“I might. I love the state of Georgia and I enjoy public service. … I’m a pretty straight shooter and sometimes that gets you in trouble. But I’ll tell you, I think public service is something you should do. … I think business folks ought to be in politics, I think you ought to have people there who are there for the right reasons.”

On 2024:

“If we as a country don’t get a change in leadership in the White House, a significant change in the House and Senate, we’re in trouble as a country. The trajectory we’re going right now is not sustainable.”

On scrutiny into Jones’ agenda:

“I always laugh when I get accused of doing something self-serving. I’m the only person up here who doesn’t have a family member on the payroll.”

Insider’s note: This item was ripped and expanded from the Morning Jolt.