The Jolt: Will Republicans vote for a recent Democrat if Donald Trump tells them to?

11/21/20 - Atlanta,  GA - Several different groups converged on the Georgia State Capitol for a rally on Saturday, November 21, 2020. Among the speakers was Democratic state Rep. Vernon Jones, who is a supporter of President Donald Trump.  Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.shin@ajc.com
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11/21/20 - Atlanta, GA - Several different groups converged on the Georgia State Capitol for a rally on Saturday, November 21, 2020. Among the speakers was Democratic state Rep. Vernon Jones, who is a supporter of President Donald Trump. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Does a majority of the Georgia GOP base hate Gov. Brian Kemp enough to vote for a former state lawmaker who was a Democrat just a year ago if former President Donald Trump tells them to do so?

It might seem an odd time to ask that question, since Kemp seems to be enjoying renewed affection from base Republicans after he signed a sweeping election rewrite into law and defended it amid opposition from two of Georgia’s top corporations.

But that’s the challenge the governor might face if Vernon Jones moves forward with his plans to challenge Kemp in a GOP primary next year — a campaign Jones is likely to announce on Friday.

By now you’re all-too-familiar with Trump’s falling out with Kemp after the governor refused his demands to overturn his election defeat. And you know about the makings of a pro-Trump ticket in Georgia that could give GOP incumbents fits.

But Jones breaks the mold of a typical Trump-boosting Georgia GOPer: He’s a longtime Democratic elected official once villainized by local Republicans for his leadership of DeKalb County in the 2000s who only switched parties a few months ago.

During his two terms as DeKalb’s top executive, he drew intense scrutiny for angry outbursts and an accusation of rape that he said was a consensual act between three partners. No charges were filed.

Before he bolted to the GOP, Jones tried his hand at a series of other offices, mounting unsuccessful runs for the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House and DeKalb sheriff before his victory in a DeKalb-based House seat returned him to the state Capitol five years ago.

He cut a polarizing profile in the Georgia statehouse and quickly became a pariah to his own party as he clashed with DeKalb Democrats over an ethics board and other policies.

He also voted against the “heartbeat bill,” namely the Republican anti-abortion law that was Kemp’s signature legislative accomplishment in 2019, a vote that Jones will have to explain to conservatives who celebrated the sweeping new restrictions that are now blocked in court.

When Jones endorsed Trump in 2020, it came as little surprise to infuriated Democrats, who quickly moved to distance him from the party.

Republicans embraced him, and his perch as a pro-Trump “Democrat” earned him a surging social media following, speaking slots at the Republican National Convention and other premier events along with loads of attention on cable TV.

Now Jones seems on the cusp of testing the limits of Trump’s appeal in the Georgia GOP — perhaps with the former president’s blessing.

In fact, Jones made the pilgrimage to Mar-A-Lago over the weekend, where Trump repeatedly asked the Georgian when he’s announcing for governor -- and Jones told him to expect the decision on Friday.

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Falcons owner Arthur Blank was reportedly among the business executives who met virtually on Saturday to discuss how to unite against election laws like the one passed in Georgia that restricts access to voting.

The Washington Post was the first to report the meeting, which included more than 100 leaders from companies, including Atlanta-based Delta Airlines. When the AJC reached out to Blank’s team to verify his attendance, a spokesperson declined to comment.

The Post also reported that one of the organizers was Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a former star professor at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School who is now with Yale University’s School of Management.

The reported goal of the call was for the leaders to unify their response to the election laws, which they view as discriminatory and targeting Black voters.

Among the options discussed were withholding campaign contributions to lawmakers who support the bills or delaying investments in states where laws are enacted, much like the baseball All-Star game that was moved out of Georgia.

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POSTED: Republican businessman Kelvin King has entered the race to challenge U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock in 2022.

More from Greg Bluestein:

“King was one of former President Donald Trump's most prominent Black supporters in Georgia and founded a political outreach group called Speak Georgia with his wife Janelle King, a conservative pundit and operative.

“In a statement, he attacked Warnock's “divisive far left representation" and said Georgia is ground zero for the GOP push to recapture the Senate, which flipped in January with the victories of Warnock and fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff."

- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Tuesday is election day in Whitfield County, with a runoff election set between Shane Day and John Thomas for a seat on the Whitfield County Commission. The Dalton Daily Citizen-News has the details of the race.

While every election is important in our books, Tuesday also marks the first test of several portions of Georgia’s new election law.

Although some sections of the law are set to become effective on July 1, all other portions of Senate Bill 202, including the prohibition on distributing food and water directly to voters in line, went into effect when Gov. Brian Kemp signed the bill.

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Speaking of Gov. Brian Kemp, former President Donald Trump continues to make it clear that Georgia’s leader will never, ever be back in his good graces.

Trump reportedly pummeled Kemp and other GOP leaders during off-script asides in a Saturday speech at Mar-a-Lago that included more false information about his defeat.

The New York Times said Trump “berated (Kemp) anew for not helping overturn Mr. Biden’s win in the state.”

Trump’s nastiest words were for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who did not support convicting Trump of inciting the Jan. 6 riot, but has said he holds the former president partially responsible for what occurred. Trump reportedly called McConnell a “dumb son of a b----” and a “stone cold loser.”

Playbook also noted that Georgia U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene cancelled her scheduled appearance at the RNC event because her father had become gravely ill.

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POSTED: The Biden administration and both of Georgia’s U.S. senators claimed victory over the weekend after a deal was reached that will allow SK Innovation to move forward with its plans to build a car battery plant. We have an inside look at how the agreement between two rival South Korean companies was reached.

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A bill that passed on the last day of the legislative session could pave the way for Macon to lower its property taxes and raise its sales tax, the Macon Telegraph reports.

More:

“House Bill 575 would allow Macon-Bibb County to implement an “other local option sales tax" (OLOST) — an extra cent for every eligible dollar spent in the county — to generate enough revenue to lower property taxes. The bill has to be signed by Gov. Brian Kemp and then the sales tax approved by Macon voters.

“Last night was a major step towards a historic moment for Macon-Bibb County, the single largest property tax decrease in our history," said Mayor Lester Miller at a press conference Thursday. “When fully implemented, Macon-Bibb will have the lowest property taxes in this region."

- The Macon Telegraph

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Georgia is back on top as the nation’s #1 pecan producer two years after Hurricane Michael devastated pecan growers across the state.

In other pecan news, WALB in Albany also reports that Gov. Brian Kemp was in Vienna last week to sign SB 222, the recently passed legislation designating the pecan as Georgia’s official state nut.

Before we get too many comments from the peanut gallery, keep in mind that Georgia’s beloved peanut is technically a legume and not eligible to be top nut.

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Since April seems to be trial balloon season, Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo asked Herschel Walker Sunday if he’s planning to get into the race against U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock. Walker said only, “Stay tuned. It’s going to be exciting.”

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The Masters golf championship finished up in Augusta Sunday after a protest earlier in the week outside the gates of Augusta National against Senate Bill 202.

The two Masters winners made history themselves this year. Hideki Matsuyama became the first Japanese man to win a major golf tournament.

But he wasn’t the first Japanese player to win at Augusta, Golf Week reported. That honor went to Tsubasa Kajitani the week before, when the 17-year-old won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur title.