The Jolt: Georgia runoff report: Trump tanks, ‘RINOs’ rule, and one big upset

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
March 26, 2022 Commerce - Vernon Jones, former Democrat, speaks during a rally for Georgia GOP candidates at Banks County Dragway in Commerce on Saturday, March 26, 2022. (Hyosub Shin /



March 26, 2022 Commerce - Vernon Jones, former Democrat, speaks during a rally for Georgia GOP candidates at Banks County Dragway in Commerce on Saturday, March 26, 2022. (Hyosub Shin /

Call it RINOs’ revenge. A lesson learned for Republicans last night-- just calling your opponent a “RINO” doesn’t win an election, nor does it make your opponent an actual RINO.

In the two closest watched House races of the night, Dr. Rich McCormick demolished attorney Jake Evans, 67% to 33%, to win the GOP nomination in the 6th Congressional District.

And Mike Collins crushed Vernon Jones, 74% to 26%, for the 10th Congressional District GOP nomination.

Jones and Evans both built their campaigns around flaunting endorsements from Donald Trump and then trying to convince GOP voters their opponents were squishy moderates, despite the fact that McCormick and Collins are both far-right conservatives.

The wins come on the heels of the May primary victories by Gov. Brian Kemp and a suite of other incumbents labeled “RINOs” by Trump. Republican voters were unpersuaded.

An important note for voters: Just because they were called RINO’s, don’t expect McCormick and Collins to act like RINO’s-- or to reject Trump.

The AJC’s Taylor Croft was in Cobb County for McCormick’s victory party.

As soon as McCormick was declared the winner, he told his supporters, ”I expect Donald Trump to call us because we’re gonna be friends together, and we’re gonna move forward together because that’s what the party is about.”


HOME GROWN. Of all of the races that made headlines Tuesday, the upset of the night in Georgia has to go to Chris West, the below-the-radar GOP candidate in the Second Congressional District.

West was outspent 10-to-one by his opponent, Jeremy Hunt, in the Southwest Georgia district where Hunt moved his family just ahead of the primary.

GOP leaders had assumed Hunt, a telegenic West Point graduate, would have the best chance to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, a moderate who has represented the district for 30 years.

But West won in part by painting Hunt as an Atlanta-based outsider who was the favorite of Washington elites.

Hunt did, indeed, tout endorsements from GOP bigwigs like U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, and even former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who stumped for Hunt in the district.

Hunt was also fueled by a tight relationship with Fox News, where he announced his bid and proceed to appear so many times during the primary (15 by our count), that a third GOP candidate is now suing Fox News, Hunt and Fox & Friends regular Brian Kilmeade for giving Hunt an unfair advantage over the airwaves.

Republicans looking to put a more diverse face on the party will now regroup.

Along with Hunt, Vernon Jones also lost in the 10th District GOP primary. That leaves the party with just two prominent Black Republicans still standing: Senate hopeful Herschel Walker and Public Service Commission member Fitz Johnson.

On Monday, Walker went to the Republican National Committee’s outreach office in College Park for a Juneteenth celebration.


3 FOR 3. Stacey Abrams’ knows how to pick ‘em. All three of the Democratic candidates she endorsed won their primaries last night to cement the statewide Democratic ticket for November.

Charlie Bailey defeated Kwanza Hall in the lieutenant governor’s race, 63% to 37%. State Rep. Bee Nguyen won out over former state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler for the secretary of state nomination, 77% to 23%. And state Rep. William Boddie, Jr. had a huge win, defeating Nicole Horn 62% to 38%.

Janice Laws Robinson won, 64% to 36%, over Raphel Robinson in the Insurance Commissioner race where Abrams did not make a pick.

That means Abrams will top a ticket that is male, female, white, Black and Asian American. “It looks like Georgia,” said state Sen. Michelle Au.

They’ll face a GOP ticket that includes Herschel Walker for U.S. Senate and John King, the state’s first Latino insurance commissioner.


LAST BECOMES FIRST. Initial, erroneous results from DeKalb County after May’s primary had Michelle Long Spears in last place in the contest to become the County Commission’s District 2 representative.

But the AJC’s Tyler Estep reported Tuesday night that Spears now appears to be the winner of the runoff. And with no Republican on November’s general election ballot, Spears would become commissioner-elect when the results are finalized.


BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE. Among the other results that caught our eyes on a slam-packed Tuesday:

  • Attorney Wade Herring beat Joyce Marie Griggs in the Democratic primary, 62% to 38%, in the 1st Congressional District to challenge U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter in November;
  • Mark Gonsalves defeated Michael Corbin in the 7th Congressional District to face U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath;
  • Democratic state Rep. Roger Bruce held on to his job, winning 64% to 36%;
  • State Rep. Sherri Gilligan wasn’t so lucky-- she lost her runoff to Carter Barrett 41% to 59%;
  • Saira Draper held on to win in state Rep. Bee Nguyen’s current district, where Stacey Abrams got her start, too. Draper won with 54%;
  • Augusta chose its new mayor. Garnett Johnson will be the city’s 85th mayor.


SCARY STUFF. Before any votes were counted in Atlanta Tuesday, three Georgia election officials gave dramatic testimony to the January 6 committee in Washington about the threats to their lives and families following the 2020 elections-- all from supporters of Donald Trump.

Fulton County election worker Shaye Moss testified in person, visibly nervous. She pointed to Trump’s repeated, and dishonest focus on her after he lost Georgia, spawning threats to her family, including Trump supporters showing up outside her grandmother’s home.

Her mother, Ruby Freeman, sat behind her during the hearing when the committee showed video of Freeman testifying earlier that Trump’s conspiracies had upended her life.

“There is nowhere I feel safe,” Freeman told investigators. “Nowhere. Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States target you?”

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his chief deputy, Gabriel Sterling, also shared their own stories of resisting Trump’s pressure and the threats that followed.


ON TO NOVEMBER. Gov. Brian Kemp unveiled a new TV ad Wednesday that frames Democrat Stacey Abrams as a supporter of the “defund the police” movement.

It opens with a clip of a June 2020 interview, in the days after the police shooting of Rayshard Brooks, in which a CNN anchor asks Abrams if she would support “some defunding.” After a pause, she answers: “We have to reallocate resources, so yes.”

But the ad omits the rest of her answer in that interview: “If there is a moment where resources are so tight that we have to choose between whether we murder Black people or serve Black people, then absolutely: Our choice must be service. But I actually think it’s creating a false choice and a false narrative.”

The ad also invokes Abrams’ role as a board member of the Marguerite Casey Foundation, a Seattle-based organization that has amplified social media posts that favor defunding the police.

Abrams campaign said she doesn’t support defunding the police and recently released a plan that includes mainstays of her 2018 public safety agenda.


FARMERS’ FAN. GOP state Sen. Tyler Harper also has a new ad out with the tagline, “Sometimes, it takes a farmer.”

An Ocilla farmer himself, Harper had no primary opposition for his run to become state agriculture commissioner. He’ll face Democrat Nakita Hemingway in November.


WALKER TALKER. A tipster dug up audio of Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker from a 2011 interview with Go For It Radio where he speaks about his struggle with dissociative identity disorder.

“Do not be ashamed of it. Come out and try to get help. I tell them all the time, did our Lord Jesus Christ have a mental illness?” he said

“Because he said he was the father, the son, and the holy spirit. To me those are three different personalities so we’re not so much different than he is.”

Listen here.


KEMP’S PLAYBOOK. Former Vice President Mike Pence is attempting to borrow from Gov. Brian Kemp’s strategy to deal with the ex-president’s vitriol.

As a New York Times report explores, Pence is adopting the approach that Kemp used in his May GOP primary to humiliate former U.S. Sen. David Perdue by refusing to antagonize Trump.

Times reporter Maggie Haberman characterized it as a “he’s fighting with me, I’m not fighting with him” posture. Read the story here.

Of course unlike Pence, Kemp never had Trump supporters calling for an angry mob to hang him. So we’ll see how this strategy works.


In this photo of May 11, 2022, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) walks out of the Senate Chambers during a series of votes in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

GAS TAX DECISION. President Joe Biden has put his support behind Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock’s legislation to temporarily suspend the federal gas tax in order to reduce prices at the pump.

Our Washington Insider Tia Mitchell has the details.

For his part, Herschel Walker has been arguing for months that Democrats should focus instead on increasing domestic energy production.

And in a tweet, Walker’s campaign manager panned Warnock’s proposal for a federal gas tax suspension as “an election year band-aid that would barely put a dent in the record prices Georgians are paying at the pump, nothing more.”

So is Walker against the gas tax break?

“Of course, Herschel supports the gas tax cut,” Paradise said. “But he supports the expanded domestic production that would fix the problem and Warnock doesn’t.”



  • After taking a procedural vote Tuesday night to advance a bipartisan gun control package, the Senate now begins working through the legislation with a final vote expected later in the week.
  • A House committee will hold a hearing on misconduct among NFL teams. League Commissioner Roger Godell plans to appear but Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder, who has been accused of overseeing a hostile workplace for women, says he will ignore his invitation.
  • President Joe Biden will advocate a suspension of the federal gas tax in remarks this afternoon at the White House.


GREENE’S POSTER BANDIT. U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and her staff knew that someone was defacing posters outside her office door that criticized transgender people.

After multiple complaints to the Capitol police, a security camera was installed. The culprit turned out to be the chief of staff for a Democratic lawmaker, caught on camera putting stickers on Greene’s poster using Bible verses to counter her anti-LGBTQ messaging.

But Greene is angry the investigation did not lead to criminal charges for destruction of property. And she took to the House floor on Tuesday to air her grievances.

“They know exactly who he is,” she said. “And he’s clearly broken the law. But they didn’t want to prosecute it.”

The admitted culprit is Tim Hysom, who works for Democratic Rep. Jake Auchincloss of Massachusetts. A spokesman for Auchincloss said the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington made the right call in declining to prosecute.

“What Tim did was to adhere a series of stickers to foul, mean spirited, bullying posters outside the Congresswoman’s office,” spokesman Matt Corridoni said in a statement. “These stickers were never threatening and always respectful.”


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