Former President Donald Trump is set to speak at the Georgia GOP convention in June, marking the Republican’s first event in Georgia since launching his comeback bid.
The June 10 event in Columbus comes as Fulton County prosecutors near a decision on whether to seek criminal charges against Trump and his allies for seeking to overturn his 2020 election defeat in Georgia.
The gathering will bring together more than 1,000 Republican activists from across the state, which Democrats captured in the last presidential race for the first time in almost three decades. Georgia is one of a small handful of states that both parties view as competitive on the 2024 electoral map.
A divide over Trump has caused enduring fissures among state Republicans. Gov. Brian Kemp and other key officials are trying to steer the party away from the former president, while the state GOP has become a bastion of Trump’s most loyal supporters.
That’s partly because the party is led by David Shafer, a former state Senate leader who won the GOP chairmanship in 2019 after narrowly losing a runoff for lieutenant governor.
In 2022, Shafer openly supported Trump-backed challengers to Republican incumbents, angering many mainstream leaders and their supporters. He also could face charges in the Fulton County probe for helping to engineer the pro-Trump fake elector slate. Shafer has said he has done nothing wrong.
The governor, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Attorney General Chris Carr and Insurance Commissioner John King each easily fended off their Trump-backed challengers in the midterm, raising questions about the former president’s popularity in the state.
Still, most public polls show Trump with a solid lead in Georgia. The latest, a Landmark Communications poll of 800 likely GOP voters released Wednesday, showed Trump with 40% support, followed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at 32%. Kemp, who has not ruled out a 2024 run, was at 7% support.
The state party has long been a hotbed of conservative activism, and members have occasionally rebuked senior Republican officials. Now widely popular among fellow Republicans — the Landmark poll showed the governor’s approval rating near 75% — Kemp was peppered with boos during his 2021 speech at the party’s convention.
This year, however, ultra-conservative factions have gained even more influence by winning a string of key positions in local elections. And one group wants to give the state party power to block candidates from qualifying to run as Republicans if they’re deemed to be insufficiently conservative or a “traitor” to the party.
Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC
Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC
Other speakers at the convention include former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, Labor Commissioner Bruce Thompson, and U.S. Reps. Rich McCormick and Marjorie Taylor Greene. Shafer said another presidential contender also has committed, with an announcement set for Thursday.
Trump’s last political event in Georgia took place in April 2022 at a dusty racetrack in Commerce, where he urged his supporters to oust Kemp from office and purge his key allies from state government because they refused to back his false claims of election fraud.
He warned Kemp would “go down in flames” to Democrat Stacey Abrams if Republicans refused to replace him on the ballot with former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who blamed Kemp for Trump’s loss and promised to make sure “whoever was responsible goes to jail.”
Kemp routed Perdue by 52 points in the primary and quickly consolidated GOP support, temporarily quelling the bitter intraparty feud. He went on to defeat Abrams by about 8 points. Herschel Walker, the Trump-endorsed candidate for U.S. Senate, was the only statewide GOP candidate to lose.
Kemp, meanwhile, decided weeks ago against attending the GOP convention, and most other statewide Republican officials are also skipping the event. The governor, too, is using a new fundraising committee to create a parallel GOP organization to mobilize Republicans, support his policy priorities and promote his candidates.
“I don’t have a rift with the state GOP. I just think to win we have to have a robust ground operation. The state GOP wasn’t doing that, so we did that ourselves,” Kemp said recently, adding:
“I’m going to stay engaged helping our legislative candidates, helping our nominee in 2024. Because if we don’t win Georgia, we aren’t winning the White House.”
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