The Jolt: GOP brings in Jason Aldean for Georgia star power

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Jason Aldean brought his High Noon Neon Tour to sold out SunTrust Park on Saturday, July 21, 2018, with openers Hootie & the Blowfish, Luke Combs and Lauren Alaina.
Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com

Credit: Robb Cohen Photography & Video/

Combined ShapeCaption
Jason Aldean brought his High Noon Neon Tour to sold out SunTrust Park on Saturday, July 21, 2018, with openers Hootie & the Blowfish, Luke Combs and Lauren Alaina. Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com

Credit: Robb Cohen Photography & Video/

Credit: Robb Cohen Photography & Video/

The line outside Republican Burt Jones’ fundraiser at The Warehouse spilled into the street, stretching in front of a coffee shop and tattoo parlor on busy Broad Street in downtown Athens.

Inside, hundreds of donors who shelled out to see country music star Jason Aldean were first treated to a video reminder that former President Donald Trump backed Jones for lieutenant governor.

Then came Aldean, a Macon native who joked that he doesn’t often play college bars anymore. He made an exception for Jones, he said, adding that the “country is in a lot of trouble now” and it’s important to support someone who can “dig us out of this mess.”

Ethics officials said the superstar concert did not violate state rules-- and Aldean might not have even been the biggest draw at the fundraiser. Not long after his set began, Georgia football coach Kirby Smart, who began his coaching career at UGA in 1999 while Jones was a player, made a few rounds of the venue for pictures with fans.

Georgia Republicans like to pan Democrats as the party of Hollywood celebrities, but if the last election cycle was any indication, both parties will rely heavily on star power to drum up the vote.

Ex-U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s campaign hinges on Trump, the biggest GOP luminary of all. He’ll join a cast of other pro-Trump figures at the CPAC conservative gathering this weekend.

And former UGA star Herschel Walker’s Senate bid is fueled both by his friendship with Trump and own celebrity in football-mad Georgia.

With comfortable leads in polling and fundraising, Walker has only participated in closely controlled campaign events, including some that require tickets, forbid video recording and restrict media access.

Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, Walker’s best-known rival, has slammed him for months with accusations that he’s trying to avoid hard questions.

“Fellow Republicans, we must have this conversation now, before the May primary,” Black said last week.

Notably, Kelvin King, a military veteran and GOP candidate for the Senate nomination, also joined in with criticism of Walker at a weekend stop in Franklin Springs.

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UNDER THE GOLD DOME:

  • The state House and Senate are adjourned until Tuesday for the Presidents Day holiday.

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With Congress in recess this week, keep an eye out for U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, who each have separate events in the state planned. We’ll keep you posted on details as we have them.

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Back on the trail: Gov. Brian Kemp made five stops across north Georgia on Friday, starting with a trip to downtown Gainesville and ending with a visit to Cleveland.

We caught up with Kemp in Gainesville, where he focused his stump speech around defeating Stacey Abrams in November. And, like every stop, he avoided saying a negative word about Donald Trump, despite entreaties from reporters.

He wasn’t as reluctant to lash out at David Perdue, his GOP challenger. When we asked him about the alliance between Perdue and Abrams to oppose a change in fundraising law to block political opponents from raising cash during a legislative session, Kemp was unsparing.

“I thought it was kind of comical that Perdue is lining up with Stacey Abrams,” said Kemp. “He said, and she said, they always want everything to be equitable and fair. And it’s not. They can raise money now and people who are in session can’t.”

Asked whether he endorsed the legislation, Kemp said he wasn’t paying attention to the legislative back-and-forth. But his administration certainly is: Senate GOP members told us the proposal was a topic of conversation at a recent meeting at the Governor’s Mansion.

Abrams’ campaign has used the threat of the legislation to rev up fundraising. We counted at least three fundraising appeals from Abrams campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo warning about the potential changes.

“Now, after we outraised him nearly 4-to-1 in December and January, they are trying to prevent us from fundraising – all while Kemp and Kemp alone can keep raising unlimited funds into his leadership committee,” wrote Groh-Wargo in a memo sent over the weekend.

“Yet I know that every time they try to rig the rules to maintain power, they embolden more Georgians to join our fight for new leadership. Together, let’s prove we will not back down and show that their attempts to silence our movement will only make it grow stronger.”

Notable: Former Gov. Nathan Deal also joined Kemp at his stop in Cornelia. He hasn’t endorsed his successor yet, but he is expected to soon do so.

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POSTED: Tia Mitchell has a look at the Democratic primary matchup between U.S. Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux and Lucy McBath in the redrawn 7th Congressional District where the winner will likely determine who occupies the seat after the general election.

State Rep. Donna McLeod, the first Jamaican-born person to serve in the Georgia Legislature, is also a candidate, but the Lawrenceville resident is considered a long shot to win the primary.

Bourdeaux currently represents most of the territory in the newly drawn 7th District, but she’s faced criticism from some progressives who accused her of slowing President Joe Biden’s agenda in Washington.

McBath has served one more term in Congress, has higher name recognition and more money behind her. But she has to work to make inroads with voters who supported Bourdeaux in 2020.

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Speaking of Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, she was in Buford Friday with descendants of Black residents of Forsyth County, who were terrorized by a white mob in 1912 and forced to flee. The remembrance was part of a larger effort to ensure that Georgians don’t forget the racial cleansing in the county more than a century ago.

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Heartburn over local redistricting isn’t limited to Metro Atlanta counties.

The Savannah Morning News’ Adam Van Brimmer writes about the curious case of Dutch Island, a wealthy enclave in Chatham County that has been the focus of intense debates over county commission and school board boundaries. More:

(GOP State Reps. Jesse Petrea and Ron Stephens) make for easy villians in this partisan dustup. But as Ice-T once said, ‘don't hate the player, hate the game.'

Switch the roles, and the Democrats would do the same and act to protect their interests. Note also that Chatham Republicans aren't following the lead of many of their other colleagues in the Legislature, such as those in Gwinnett, Cobb and Richmond counties, and drafting unapologetically partisan maps.

They understand Chatham is a Democratic-leaning county. If they can maintain the relatively even balance that exists today – four Republican commissioners, albeit including one, Larry Rivers, who is truly a RINO – for another 10 years, they'll do it.

Their sneaky, almost underhanded approach has been distasteful.

- Savannah Morning News

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Also for your reading list: The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer has a lengthy and informative piece on the powerhouse, barrier-breaking Hugley family, which includes Democratic state Rep. Carolyn Hugley, her husband, Isaiah Hugley, the first Black city manager of Columbus, and his sister, Pat Hugley Greene, the first Black woman elected as chair of the Muscogee County school board.

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In endorsement news:

  • U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath is backing Everton Blair for state superintendent of schools. Blair has previously endorsed McBath in the 7th Congressional District Democratic primary.

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The U.S. Senate last week confirmed Emory University instructional archivist Gabrielle Dudley and Professor Hank Klibanoff, a former AJC journalist, to the Civil Rights Cold Case Review Board.

Former president Donald Trump signed off on creating the panel in 2019, but it didn’t get off the ground until Joe Biden was elected.

Georgia U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff teamed up with Texas Republican Ted Cruz to introduce a bill that would help ensure the Review Board had enough time to investigate unsolved murders from the Civil Rights era by extending its authorized term to 2027.

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In case you missed it over the weekend, we’ve got the definitive story on how Buckhead cityhood advocates failed, for now.

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It seems like former state Rep. Bert Reeves has been living his best life since he left the state House to take a job at his alma mater, Georgia Tech, last year.

Last week, Reeves hosted a group of lawmakers, former Tech pitcher Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, and UGA alum Attorney General Chris Carr for the Jackets’ basketball game.

On Friday, he swung by the state Capitol with Tech president Angel Cabrera to catch up with House Speaker David Ralston – and to give the Speaker, a die-hard Bulldog fan, a plush pillow of the Tech mascot Buzz.

“And we delivered a beautiful and amazing pillow that I know will be displayed in a very special place in Speaker Ralston’s office!🐝🐝,” tweeted Reeves, who was the mascot from 1997 to 2000 while a student at the trade school on North Avenue.

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A different sort of amazing pillow display unfolded several floors below in the Capitol Friday when Mike Lindell, the MyPillow chief executive and pro-Trump conspiracy theorist, delivered boxes of “affidavits” to state officials promoting lies about the election.

As the entire escapade was broadcast live on Steve Bannon’s podcast, Lindell called on state officials to “melt down the machines!” Bannon also registered his frustration that GOP governor hopeful David Perdue was not with the caravan.

“I thought Perdue would be down there sitting next to you guys…why is he not there?” Bannon asked.

We could have told him that Perdue was elsewhere campaigning in the state.

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Speaker David Ralston was not the only UGA super fan in a picture with a Georgia Tech star last week.

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We’re sending warm Presidents Day wishes to our pals Jim Galloway and Bill Shipp, who caught up with each other last week and no doubt traded tales of covering presidential campaigns, state politics and the many high jinks Georgia pols have always delivered.

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As always, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com and greg.bluestein@ajc.com.

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