The Jolt: In fight over Georgia’s election, Brian Kemp sticks to the sidelines

Governor Brian Kemp and First Lady Marty Kemp are joined by state Economic Development team members for an announcement during a news conference to announce Brian Marlowe, far left, as the leader of the Rural Strike Team, held at the capitol in Atlanta, October 21, 2020. JOHN AMIS FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: John Amis

caption arrowCaption
Governor Brian Kemp and First Lady Marty Kemp are joined by state Economic Development team members for an announcement during a news conference to announce Brian Marlowe, far left, as the leader of the Rural Strike Team, held at the capitol in Atlanta, October 21, 2020. JOHN AMIS FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: John Amis

Credit: John Amis

Throughout the battle within the Georgia GOP over the integrity of the state’s Nov. 3 election, the silence of Gov. Brian Kemp has been notable.

Despite the occasional jab on Twitter from Donald Trump, Kemp hasn’t taken the president’s side – nor has he offered himself up as a shield to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. From Russ Bynum and the Associated Press:

Kemp, Georgia's top elected Republican, has staked out a position on the sidelines. Having recently emerged from quarantine after a possible coronavirus exposure, he made his only public appearance since Election Day last week to tout a trade magazine's ranking of Georgia as the most business-friendly U.S. state.

Pressed by a reporter, he brushed off the question of whether Raffensperger should resign as “moot." He said he supported the secretary's decision to order a hand-counted audit of Georgia's roughly 5 million presidential votes.

“Let's let that happen and let the chips fall where they may," Kemp told reporters last week.

The governor has said little else about the GOP infighting in his own state as Trump seeks to overturn Biden's victory by challenging the results in Georgia and other battleground states. Kemp has neither endorsed Trump's fraud claims nor backed Raffensperger in his assertion that the election was conducted fairly.

Asked if the governor has seen evidence of widespread irregularities or vote fraud, spokesman Cody Hall said Kemp wants to wait until after Georgia certifies its election results. The deadline is Friday.

“At the end of that process, he will make a determination in his own mind if he's seen anything of that nature," Hall said.

Hall said he expects the governor's next public appearance to be Friday, when Vice President Mike Pence comes to Georgia to campaign for Perdue and Loeffler, both of whom face runoffs against their Democratic challengers on Jan 5.

Some of Kemp's supporters think he is wise to remain neutral.

“For the governor, it would be a catch-22 — it's going to be hard to make any side happy with any statement he can make," said Jason Shepherd, Republican Party chairman for Cobb County in the Atlanta suburbs.

Eric Johnson, a former Republican leader of the Georgia Senate, agreed Kemp should stay out of the fray over Trump's election and focus on the Senate runoffs. He said he's concerned an escalating debate over the validity of Georgia's presidential election could hurt Republican turnout in January.

“A Republican civil war doesn't do anything except hurt the voters we need to come back on Jan. 5," Johnson said. “If they think there's corruption, then why vote? If they think it was stolen, why vote? Because it'll just be stolen again."

***

The ongoing recount of Georgia’s presidential election has turned up more than 3,300 new votes stored on memory cards that hadn’t been loaded into election computers, our AJC colleagues Mark Niesse and David Wickert report. A separate issue in Floyd County led to another 2,600 ballots going unscanned.

With those now included, Democrat Joe Biden’s lead over GOP incumbent Donald Trump has dropped to 12,781 votes. Trump picked up about 1,400 new votes.

***

President-elect Joe Biden warned supporters in a private video call on Wednesday that his incoming administration will face tough hurdles unless Democrats win Georgia’s two U.S. Senate runoffs on Jan. 5.

“We’re going to run into some real brick walls initially in the Senate unless we’re able to turn around Georgia and pick up those two seats, but even then it’s going to be hard,” Biden said during the call, reported by the New York Times and other outlets.

“But I believe, I believe I know the place. I believe we can ultimately bring it together.”

***

Suddenly, a half-billion dollars in spending for Georgia’s two Senate runoffs doesn’t seem too grandiose.

More than $145 million worth of TV ads has already been booked through Jan. 5 — including a huge $19 million ad buy reserved by Jon Ossoff’s campaign late Wednesday.

In all, about $76 million has been reserved in the race for U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s seat and roughly $70 million in Sen. David Perdue’s contest against Ossoff, according to media strategist Rick Dent. Loeffler accounts for about $40 million of the spending, mostly attack ads against her opponent Raphael Warnock.

And more outside money is pouring in, including from NBA star LeBron James, who told reporters that his advocacy group, More Than A Vote, isn’t “just a one-off” and will remain active in the Senate runoff elections in Georgia and beyond.

***

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger continues to go on the offense against President Donald Trump and his loyalists, most lately with another eye-raising interview — this one with Pro Publica — in which he said recent criticisms of his management of the election is retaliation for refusing to personally endorse Trump’s re-election:

Raffensperger, a Republican, declined an offer in January to serve as an honorary co-chair of the Trump campaign in Georgia, according to emails reviewed by ProPublica. He later rejected GOP requests to support Trump publicly, he and his staff said in interviews. Raffensperger said he believed that, because he was overseeing the election, it would be a conflict of interest for him to take sides. Around the country, most secretaries of state remain officially neutral in elections.

The attacks on his job performance are “clear retaliation," Raffensperger said. “They thought Georgia was a layup shot Republican win. It is not the job of the secretary of state's office to deliver a win — it is the sole responsibility of the Georgia Republican Party to get out the vote and get its voters to the polls. That is not the job of the secretary of state's office."

***

The Gainesville Times has a look at road closures ahead of Vice President Mike Pence’s Friday afternoon appearance in Hall County. The event with U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler is at the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center.

***

Already posted: Georgia’s two Senate runoffs are complicating an already thorny debate on a defense funding bill, which contains a provision that would require military bases named after Confederate generals to be renamed. In Georgia, that affects both Fort Benning near Columbus and Fort Gordon near Augusta.

***

The independent Monmouth University Polling Institute on Wednesday produced a national survey indicating that 60% of Americans believe the presidential election won by Joe Biden was a fair one.

But President Donald Trump has persuaded three-quarters (77%) of his supporters that fraud was involved. “The anger among Trump’s base is tied to a belief that the election was stolen,” said Patrick Murray, director of the institute. More from the Monmouth website:

In fact, a majority (61%) of Republicans are not at all confident in the election's fairness and accuracy now. Only 13% expressed that sentiment in late September. Confidence in the election's fairness went up among both independents (from 56% to 69%) and Democrats (from 68% to 90%) pre-election to post-election.

“It's not unusual for backers on the losing side to take a while to accept the results. It is quite another thing for the defeated candidate to prolong that process by spreading groundless conspiracy theories. This is dangerous territory for the Republic's stability," said Murray.

***

The Daily Beast reports that last year, just before he took over as chairman of a subcommittee with jurisdiction over the U.S. Navy, U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., began buying stock in a company that made submarine parts:

[O]nce he began work on a bill that ultimately directed additional Navy funding for one of the firm's specialized products, Perdue sold off the stock, earning him tens of thousands of dollars in profits.

Perdue’s office pointed to past scrutiny of the senator’s stock trading, and repeated assertions that the senator has sequestered himself from decisions regarding his investments.

The campaign of Jon Ossoff, his Democratic rival, called the stock transactions “inexcusable.”

***

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Wednesday tied a number of recent shootings at the city’s nightclubs on Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to reopen restaurants, bars and nightclubs amid the COVID-19 pandemic. From our AJC colleague Stephen Deere:

During a virtual press briefing, Bottoms said people from other states whose leaders had shut down indoor service at their restaurants and bars because of a resurgence in COVID cases or had yet to reopen them were traveling to Atlanta to party.

“We're open as if we are not in the midst of a pandemic," Bottoms said. “There's not a lot that we can do about that locally because obviously the governor has made the decision to keep the state open."

Bottoms’ office issued a statement late Wednesday that included this:

“The mayor and the governor have disagreements on policies related to COVID-19 — this is nothing new. At no point did the mayor place blame at the feet of any individual elected official for the tragic shooting in question."