The defeats added to Trump’s recent failures to influence Georgia GOP elections. Kemp demolished former U.S. Sen. David Perdue in the May primary despite Trump’s efforts to bolster his campaign — support that included an in-person rally, fundraisers and a slate of TV ads.
And Trump’s attempts to unseat Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Insurance Commissioner John King and Attorney General Chris Carr were rejected by Republican voters who gave each of the incumbents convincing victories.
To be clear, the Republican victors aren’t shying away from Trump or his brand of politics. Kemp often reminds voters he supports Trump’s agenda and won’t say a negative word about him, and the runoff winners tried to position themselves as champions of the former president.
Collins and McCormick have both vowed to back Trump at every opportunity, and they support a suite of conservative stances on abortion, gun rights and other cultural issues designed to energize the party’s right flank.
But the defeats of Trump’s candidates reflect the limitations of his support even among the most fervent Republican voters in Georgia — and the exhaustion of many grassroots leaders who tire of his focus on overturning the state’s 2020 election.
“At this point in time, the Trump endorsement is neutral. It’s not a plus and it’s not a negative,” said Gordon Rhoden, the Athens-Clarke County GOP chair. “People are moving beyond that.”
Cole Muzio of the conservative Frontline Policy Action group, which endorsed Collins and McCormick, said the results showed Republicans “declared their independence once again by picking the most principled conservatives — and refusing to be told what to do.”
Trump’s track record in Georgia also contrasts sharply with those of his top rivals. Kemp, who Trump has scapegoated for his 2020 election defeat, gave Collins his late endorsement. And all three of Stacey Abrams’ picks in unpredictable statewide Democratic runoffs won.
“If you didn’t know how much more a Stacey Abrams endorsement mattered than a Trump endorsement, tonight just told you,” Democratic state Rep. Josh McLaurin said late Tuesday.
Ugly, bruising races
Jones took a winding path to his bid for Congress. A former chief executive of DeKalb County, the state’s most important Democratic stronghold, Jones carved out a long liberal record. As a state legislator, he voted against abortion restrictions that Kemp signed into law.
Along the way, he has been trailed by scandal. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution examination of Jones’ record showed he has been repeatedly accused of intimidating and harassing women in his personal and professional lives.
Shunned by his fellow Democrats, Jones underwent a political metamorphosis after he endorsed Trump in early 2020. He soon began rubbing shoulders with state GOP officials eager to promote a Black surrogate, landed a speaking slot at the Republican National Convention and crowd-surfed at Trump rallies.
Shortly after Jones formally switched to the GOP last year, he launched a doomed campaign for governor that labeled Kemp a phony Republican. Stuck in the single digits in polls, he had no credible shot to beat Perdue or Kemp.
Still, he had leverage. Trump was eager to push Jones off the ticket to give Perdue a clearer shot at the governor. He agreed to endorse Jones in the crowded race for the 10th District, even though the candidate didn’t live in the district and had few connections to the community.
The race was an ugly one, dominated not by debate over loyalty to Trump but rather more personal attacks tailored to mobilize the small sliver of voters who cast ballots in runoffs.
Collins’ campaign sent a barrage of mailers to conservatives that described Jones as a “radically anti-white racist” and sent out rape whistles emblazoned with his name, referring to an allegation that he’s denied.
Many grassroots Republicans lined up behind Collins, whose father once represented the region in Congress. In a rare move, Kemp added his name to the list last week, calling Collins a “trusted conservative” with an endorsement that ignored Jones.
“Tonight is a resounding victory,” said Collins, who thanked Kemp at the start of his victory speech. “Folks saw how hard we worked in this race — and they knew that’s how hard we will work in Washington to deliver for them as their next congressman.”
Jones, by contrast, complained that the “best person doesn’t always get elected.” His critics quipped that after mounting failed campaigns for the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House and governor, Jones is running out of races.
“What is left for Vernon to run for?” former Republican state Sen. Fran Millar said. “I give him credit for staying in the spotlight — which has always been his goal.
‘It’s about the candidates’
The 6th District race was also contentious. After Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath carried the district twice, Republicans used the once-in-a-decade redistricting process to turn the seat from a swing territory that covered Atlanta’s close-in suburbs into a GOP stronghold that stretches to rural Dawson County.
Evans parlayed his family’s close connections with Trump to secure the former president’s blessing, with help from his father, Randy, a longtime GOP official who was the U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg during the Trump administration. In the last hours of the race, Trump weighed in with a final appeal for Evans.
“He’s a great guy. I’ve known him for a long time,” Trump said in a pre-runoff telephone call. “He’s really something; his family is exceptional and he is exceptional.”
But McCormick had other advantages: a decisive fundraising edge, key endorsements and high name recognition from his 2020 run for the U.S. House in the nearby 7th District. He was seen as the front-runner from the moment he entered the race.
“I don’t think Trump really fits in with this party anymore,” said Grant Autler, a Suwanee Republican who said the former president’s defeats in Georgia show that “people really just didn’t want Trump to be involved anymore.”
McCormick also left little to chance, hitting Evans hard with suggestions that he has liberal views on policing, based on a paper he wrote in law school that McCormick’s campaign unearthed. Evans’ efforts to paint McCormick as a closet moderate by emphasizing Trump’s support, meanwhile, fell flat.
“I don’t want to talk about other politicians because that’s not what this is about,” McCormick said after his victory. “This shouldn’t be about any former president. It shouldn’t be about a future president. It should be about a party that understands what’s at stake here.”
Staff writer Taylor Croft contributed to this article.