Kemp picks Collins over ex-Democrat Jones in Georgia’s 10th District

Gov. Brian Kemp said Thursday that he is endorsing Mac Collins in Tuesday's GOP runoff in the 10th Congressional District. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Gov. Brian Kemp said Thursday that he is endorsing Mac Collins in Tuesday's GOP runoff in the 10th Congressional District. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Since switching parties last year, former Democrat Vernon Jones has repeatedly blasted Gov. Brian Kemp as a phony Republican. Now the governor is looking to get the last laugh with a move that could help seal Jones’ defeat in Tuesday’s congressional runoff.

Fresh off a massive primary victory, Kemp endorsed Mike Collins over Jones in the 10th Congressional District’s GOP matchup. The governor, who lives in the northeast Georgia district, asked other Republicans to “join me in sending a trusted conservative to Washington.”

It’s a blow to Jones, a former DeKalb County chief executive with a liberal record who is attempting to portray himself as a far-right conservative. Jones cut a deal to win former President Donald Trump’s blessing, though the May primaries showed it no longer packs the punch it once did.

By trouncing Trump-endorsed David Perdue, Kemp became the most popular Republican figure in Georgia. And overwhelming victories by other GOP incumbents over Trump’s picks added to the rebuke of the former president.

The governor tallied some of his strongest support in the 10th District, where he has lived for decades. He won several of the district’s counties by more than 80% of the vote, helping to fuel his 52-point blowout win over Perdue.

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Mike Collins, a trucking executive and the son of the late U.S. Rep. Mac Collins, was the top vote-getter in last month's 10th Congressional District GOP primary. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Credit: Brynn Anderson

Mike Collins, a trucking executive and the son of the late U.S. Rep. Mac Collins, was the top vote-getter in last month's 10th Congressional District GOP primary. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Credit: Brynn Anderson

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Mike Collins, a trucking executive and the son of the late U.S. Rep. Mac Collins, was the top vote-getter in last month's 10th Congressional District GOP primary. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Credit: Brynn Anderson

Credit: Brynn Anderson

Jones played a minor role in that Kemp victory. He announced a short-lived challenge against Kemp in August 2021 by pledging fealty to Trump while promoting the former president’s lies of election fraud.

But Jones’ single-digit showing in polls failed to impress Trump, who persuaded Perdue to enter the race instead. To clear the way for his favored contender, Trump agreed to endorse Jones if he ran for the vacant U.S. House seat. He finished second to Collins in the crowded May primary field.

Collins, a trucking executive who is the son of the late U.S. Rep. Mac Collins, has been unsparing in his criticism of Jones as he races to energize conservatives in the low-turnout runoff.

He labels the ex-Democrat a carpetbagging, “corrupt career politician,” and his campaign hands out whistles emblazoned with Jones’ name as a reminder of a 2004 rape allegation by a woman who dropped the charges but never recanted. (Jones said it was consensual.)

Jones was a liberal Democratic state legislator who gained the attention of Trump supporters in early 2020 by endorsing the then-president. He went on to crowd-surf at a Trump rally, speak at the Republican National Convention and formally switch parties last year.

Even after Kemp’s primary victory, Jones has continued to rail against the GOP nominee. Asked this week at a Walton County GOP event whether he’d support the governor, he noted that he was “not behind Gov. Kemp 100% in the primary.”

“Why? Because he didn’t stand for election integrity,” Jones said, invoking lies about widespread election fraud. He added: “I’m not going to blindly support a RINO. I’m not going to do that.”

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Vernon Jones was a Democratic state representative when he endorsed Republican President Donald Trump's reelection bid in 2020. He then went on to crowd-surf at a Trump rally in Macon, speak at the Republican National Convention and formally switch parties. He then launched a bid to unseat Republican Gov. Brian Kemp before switching to the 10th Congressional District GOP primary with Trump's support. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Vernon Jones was a Democratic state representative when he endorsed Republican President Donald Trump's reelection bid in 2020. He then went on to crowd-surf at a Trump rally in Macon, speak at the Republican National Convention and formally switch parties. He then launched a bid to unseat Republican Gov. Brian Kemp before switching to the 10th Congressional District GOP primary with Trump's support. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Vernon Jones was a Democratic state representative when he endorsed Republican President Donald Trump's reelection bid in 2020. He then went on to crowd-surf at a Trump rally in Macon, speak at the Republican National Convention and formally switch parties. He then launched a bid to unseat Republican Gov. Brian Kemp before switching to the 10th Congressional District GOP primary with Trump's support. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

At the same event, Collins was unequivocal: “I’m a Republican and I support Republican candidates, and I’m behind Gov. Kemp 100%.”

Should Collins win on Tuesday — he’s ahead in internal polls — his endorsement will give the governor a close ally in the state’s Republican House delegation. Kemp is unlikely to pick sides in the other key runoff, the 6th Congressional District matchup between Jake Evans and Rich McCormick.

In his statement, Kemp praised Collins’ conservative views on culture wars issues that motivate GOP runoff voters, including his stance against abortion and support for expanding gun rights.

“Mike is strongly pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, and will fight hard to put Georgians first in Congress,” the governor said.

“I will be casting my ballot for Mike Collins in the June 21st GOP runoff,” Kemp said, “and I ask fellow Republicans across the district to join me in sending a trusted conservative to Washington.”