Credit: Riley Bunch | GPB News
Kemp Pitches Reelection Bid As ‘Fight For The Future’
Under pressure from the left and the right, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp fought back against his detractors at his reelection campaign kickoff.
Attacked by some Republicans for not supporting the former president enough and vilified by Democrats for being too much like Donald Trump, Gov. Brian Kemp formally launched his reelection bid Saturday fighting back against his detractors.
The Athens Republican ticked through his accomplishments to a roomful of supporters at the Georgia National Fairgrounds in Perry, from an historic teacher pay raise to cracking down on street gangs to managing Georgia’s growing economy, especially outside metro Atlanta.
“I've also held my commitment to fight for rural Georgia, to strengthen rural Georgia,” he said. “We have created a promise of a rural strike team; we have been laser-focused on rural broadband.”
Conservative voters in rural Georgia are a core constituency for Republicans, and even the slightest drop in turnout and support could prove the difference-maker in a closely divided state — something the party saw firsthand in the dual Senate runoffs.
“In Houston County alone, David Perdue got 41,428 votes [in November]. ... In January, he got 36,700,” U.S. Rep. Austin Scott (R-Tifton) said. “Let me tell you something: We can't let that happen again.”
Former President Trump in particular spent months attacking Georgia, its election system and any leader who refused to overturn its results, including Kemp.
That rift within the Republican Party has complicated his reelection bid and led to at least two challengers, including former Democrat-turned Pro-Trump insurgent Vernon Jones, who has launched blistering attacks on Kemp and the state’s voting system. A favorite target of the former president’s anger after losing the November election, the governor has since launched a string of efforts to win back his deep-red base.
In recent weeks, Kemp has waded into the fray over “Critical Race Theory,” banned vaccine passports and took a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border while attacking the “woke mob” and “cancel culture” after multiple groups sued over Georgia’s sweeping new voting law.
“I will make this commitment to you: I will not waver in that fight,” he said. “I don't care if it's the Justice Department, Major League Baseball or anyone else. Every single Republican voted for that bill. And we're going to continue to defend it, because the truth is on our side.”
After the slim margins of the 2020 election, Georgia’s politics have been thrust into the national spotlight. Kemp doesn’t mind.
“I know there's some that are worried about the race getting nationalized,” Kemp told reporters after his speech. “I personally think the Democrats did a good job in nationalizing races in the state of Georgia [in 2020]. And Republicans didn't have a good message to combat that.”
But the governor said this time, he feels the script has flipped and national Democratic policies could end up hurting them in Georgia.
Kemp said his message is going to be the same in Perry as it is inside the Perimeter: He’s the one that will make a safer, stronger Georgia.
“Voters are smart. They’re gonna figure out where people stand,” he told reporters. “I'm just reminding people today of what I campaigned on, what was accomplished and really what the fight is for the future.”
Speaking of the future, Kemp enters the second half of 2020 with more than $9 million in the bank and a fresh ad attacking the decision to move the Major League Baseball All-Star Game and a defense of the new voting law.
Betty Bryant, who serves on the Spalding County election board, said Kemp was a man of integrity who hasn’t let conservatives down, despite disappointment from some grassroots voters that the governor certified the election for President Joe Biden.
“I think for reasons that are unknown to us, he did the things he did,” she said. “He knows the law; we don't. And I'm going to be supporting him again.”
After Democrats flipped the state’s electoral votes and both U.S. Senate seats, Bryant said Republicans are pulling out all the stops to keep control of the state.
“The tables have turned, and we are determined to not let the state go blue,” she said. “We are not going to let it happen. It's going to stay red and Kemp will stay in the governor's mansion.”
Forsyth resident Ann Haines has also supported Kemp since 2018 and said he has since given her no reason to change her mind.
“He’s always been truthful,” she said. “I’ve not heard him tell a lie or try to hide anything. He’s been very open and that gives me reason to support him.”
As COVID-19 sickened hundreds of thousands, the first-term governor struggled to manage the pandemic and faced harsh scrutiny for reopening the state. But Georgia’s economy rebounded, giving him a key talking point for his campaign.
In rural areas, where Georgians pushed back against the dangers of the pandemic and the vaccination rates continue to fall short of that in metro areas, Haines said the Republican governor did his best to control the spread of the virus.
“It was a challenge from the get-go in Georgia. A lot of people didn’t think it was happening. I, for one, was kind of on the bubble," she said. “Then I realized I had friends getting sick. So you had to realize things had to be done. I think he did as well as any governor could have.”
While some Republicans are keen on stoking the fires of division in an effort to excite the base, others have credited Kemp for not wavering to the pro-Trump conspiracies that have taken over Georgia politics.
“The Republican Party needs to pull together instead of pushing apart,” Forsyth resident Haines said. “And the only way to do that is find what we have common ground on.”