The Jolt: How Brad Raffensperger pulled off the upset of the night in Georgia

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A year ago, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was a pariah scorned by Donald Trump and his Republican allies who raced to blame him for the former president’s defeat.

Now he’s the comeback kid.

Raffensperger’s stunning upset victory over his Trump-backed adversary, U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, was the biggest surprise of a chaotic primary night.

Once written off for dead by the political establishment, Raffensperger turned the tables on Trump by resoundingly defeating Hice.

How did he do it?

  • Raffensperger dipped into his own pockets to self-finance a campaign that sought to shift the narrative away from Trump’s attacks and toward his role in overseeing free and fair elections.
  • His campaign strategy involved a spate of visits to Rotary Clubs and local civic organizations that aren’t havens for the “Stop the Steal” crowd. But he also didn’t shy away from countering far-right Trump supporters with the truth about elections.
  • He benefited from Democratic voters who crossed over to the GOP primary to punish Trump-backed candidates. Party officials estimate about 40,000 voters likely to back Democratic candidates in November voted in GOP races.

  • He leveraged the powers of incumbency even as he avoided further antagonizing Trump, telling reporters Tuesday his victory was no rebuke of the ex-president but “a direct compliment to the goodness of my fellow Georgians.”
  • Hice ran an abysmal campaign. He mostly frequented small-scale GOP gatherings and far-right talk shows where he continually preached to the choir rather than expand his base. And he hoarded his cash expecting a runoff, which was a very bad bet in the end.


We break down all of the primary night action on today’s midweek edition of the Politically Georgia podcast, taped just a few hours ago and now ready for your eager ears.

Listen on Spotify, Google , Apple, or your favorite podcast platform.


Before Gov. Brian Kemp celebrated his massive, 50-plus-point victory at the College Football Hall of Fame, David Perdue’s supporters were stunned when the former senator came out at 8:30 and quickly and graciously conceded the race.

Perdue said he’d already called Kemp to congratulate him and pledged his support to help defeat Democrats in November.

But Perdue’s supporters from the Stop-the-Steal effort weren’t nearly as ready to throw in the towel.

As Perdue spoke, a lone, “Never Kemp!” rang out in the small room the campaign had reserved for the event.

“I can’t explain these results. They’re counter to what I saw around the state,” Perdue continued, only for another supporter to yell, “2000 Mules!” That’s in reference the Dinesh D’Souza film that purports to show the kind of widespread fraud in the 2020 elections that state investigations long ago ruled out.

One GOP activist, Rich Thompson, said he has his doubts about Tuesday’s result, too. Without offering details, he said, “Let’s just say I don’t think this was a fair election. We’ve been down this road before.” Yes we have.


The Republican Governors Association has played a singular role in Gov. Brian Kemp’s reelection campaign, devoting $5 million to help him destroy former U.S. Sen. David Perdue.

Now the group is already providing Kemp air cover for his general election matchup against Democrat Stacey Abrams. The RGA launched a new attack ad Wednesday with a six-figure ad buy that begins on Atlanta broadcast TV.

“Typical Stacey Abrams. She believes only she knows what’s best,” a narrator says in the ad, which includes footage of Abrams saying “we certainly wouldn’t have been one of the first to reopen.”

It’s a reference to one of Kemp’s central economic themes: He reopened the state’s economy in the early days of the pandemic at a time when, as he often says, “the media, Stacey Abrams and public health experts living in their basement” advocated otherwise.

(Left out of that narrative is the fact that Donald Trump also criticized him for rolling back coronavirus restrictions.)

Democrats noted that two of the measures highlighted in the ad to claim Abrams wanted to raise taxes were Republican-backed proposals, including one signed into law by then-Gov. Nathan Deal.


Herschel Walker easily won the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, a victory that might seem like a Pop Warner game compared to the tricky political rift he’s now trying to navigate-- and that’s just inside the GOP.

On one side is his political patron, Donald Trump. On the other is Trump nemesis, Gov. Brian Kemp, who won even more votes than Walker did. Now they’re together atop the state’s GOP ticket.

How does Walker bridge that gap? Our AJC colleague Shannon McCaffrey was on hand at his Atlanta victory party when he faced that question.

“This is not about egos,” Walker told reporters, who said he had known Trump since the 1980s and was also friends with Kemp, an Athens native who is close with Vince Dooley, his old football coach.

Earlier in the day, he told your Insiders that working with Kemp wouldn’t be a problem.

“There’s no doubt we will work with anyone on the Republican side. President Trump, he’s going to want the same thing to happen to the state and the country. He wants to see what’s best for both of them.”

If you check the film on that, Trump put Kemp on the top of his revenge list and has said he’d rather see Stacey Abrams as governor, so we’re skeptical of Walker’s sunny outlook. But Georgia, as we always learn, is full of surprises.


A related note: Herschel Walker won his native Johnson County with 91% of the vote. “Those who know him best love him the most,” texted an adviser.


Donald Trump candidates in other statewide races suffered the same fate of David Perdue and Jody Hice.

  • Attorney General Chris Carr easily defeated Stop-the-Steal volunteer attorney John Gordon, with about three-fourths of the vote;
  • Insurance Commissioner John King trounced Patrick Witt, another Stop-the-Steal helper who won just about 17 percent of the vote;


On the Democratic side of the ledger:

  • Kwanza Hall and Charlie Bailey are headed to a runoff for the lieutenant governor’s race;
  • State Sen. Jen Jordan breezed to an outright win for the Attorney General nomination with more than 70 percent support;
  • State Rep. Bee Nguyen and Dee Dawkins-Haigler look to be heading to a June runoff for the nomination in the secretary of state’s race.

In other statewide races:

  • State Sen. Burt Jones sat at roughly 50.1% of the vote in the GOP lieutenant Governor’s race, topping state Sen. Butch Miller’s 31 percent;
  • State Sen. Tyler Harper will be the GOP nominee for Agriculture Commissioner, since he had no opposition. He’ll face Democrat Nakita Hemingway in November.
  • GOP state Sen. Bruce Thompson handily won the Labor Commissioner nod from Republicans, with more than 60 percent of votes, while state Sen. William Boddie, Jr. and Nicole Horn finished top two for Democrats and will duke it out in the June runoff.


U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath has made a name for herself speaking out about gun violence every since her teenage son was murdered in 2012.

But Tuesday created a particularly emotional situation for the Democrat who won her primary in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District outright, but scrapped her victory speech to acknowledge the mass shooting at a Texas elementary school.

McBath and her husband, Curtis, danced into the ballroom at the Hilton Atlanta Northeast in Peachtree Corners dancing along to a song with the refrain, “win win win win.”

But her face turned somber as she talked about the grief that at least 19 families of children and two families of adults now face in Uvalde.

“I came to give one speech, but I am now forced to make another,” she began. “Because just hours ago, we paid for the weapons of war on our streets again with the blood of little children sitting in our schools,”


U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath’s victory over former U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux on Tuesday meant that Bourdeaux was the only U.S. House member in Georgia’s delegation seeking another term who failed to advance.

She will be leaving Congress alongside U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, who decided to run for Georgia Secretary of State but lost to incumbent Brad Raffensperger.

Now that incumbents have made it past the primary, most of them should feel safe headed into the general election. The one exception is U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, who knows that Republicans have targeted his seat as one to flip in November.

We still aren’t sure who will be his GOP opponent. That primary appeared headed to a runoff but the top two candidates have not been identified.


U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene breezed to the GOP nomination in her 14th Congressional District with nearly 70 percent of the vote. She’ll now face Democrat Marcus Flowers, who raised an astonishing $8 million for his primary and has spent nearly all of it. Flowers also won big, with 74 percent of the vote.

In the 6th District GOP race, Rich McCormick and Jake Evans head to a runoff, finishing with about 43 percent and 23 percent respectively. The winner will face Democrat Christian Wise in November.

And in the 10th Congressional District, trucking executive Mike Collins and Trump-backed Vernon Jones finished top two, and will now go mano-a-mano in June for the nomination.


We’ll have more updates down ballot in tomorrow’s Jolt.


In non-election news, the commission appointed to come up with new names for military bases named after Confederates, including two in Georgia, has released its recommendations.

Fort Gordon near Augusta would be renamed Fort Eisenhower after former president and Army general Dwight D. Eisenhower. U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, who represents the area, put out a press release saying he approves.

Fort Benning outside of Columbus would be renamed Fort Moore after Army Lt. Gen. Hal Moore and Julia Moore, his wife. While Hal Moore was deployed to Vietnam, Julia Moore stayed behind at Fort Benning and later got involved in providing support services to military families.

The proposed names will be sent to Congress in a report due Oct. 1.


Today in Washington:

  • President Joe Biden will announce executive action on policing, including creating a national database on law enforcement misconduct;
  • The Senate is still focused on confirmations;
  • The House is out.


The public memorial service for the late U.S. Sen. Max Cleland will be held at Northside United Methodist Church at 11:00 this morning.

For those who cannot attend in person, a livestream will be available at the church’s website.

Cleland died in November, just before Veterans Day. His memorial was delayed due to COVID concerns until this week, ahead of Memorial Day.


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