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Trump's visit to Georgia: Walker's debut, GOP feuding and Kemp's problem

Greg Bluestein, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Political News

PERRY, Ga. — For the first time since a pre-runoff visit in January, former President Donald Trump is returning to Georgia to hold a rally for thousands of supporters. And even though Democrats swept those Jan. 5 runoffs, Trump is likely to deliver much the same message.

He’s still fixated on attacking Gov. Brian Kemp, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and other Republicans who didn’t back his attempt to illegally overturn the presidential election results in Georgia. And he’s still intent on stoking the GOP feud that dominated the party over the past year by relitigating his 2020 defeat.

But there will be other themes at the daylong pro-Trump party Saturday at the Georgia National Fairgrounds in Perry.

For the first time, a pro-Trump slate of candidates for the U.S. Senate, lieutenant governor and secretary of state will share the same stage. There will be a first campaign speech for newly minted Senate contender Herschel Walker. And it seems sure to be another rough day for Kemp.

Here’s what to watch:

Trump’s ongoing feud

The former president likely previewed his attacks on Georgia Republicans with an interview this week on local radio.

“We’ll see who’s going to be running against Kemp, but I would imagine somebody will. If somebody ran, they’d win in the Republican primary,” Trump told host John Fredericks. “But he’s not going to be able to win the general election anyway, because the base isn’t going to show up for him.”

Clearly, Trump’s animus toward Kemp and Raffensperger hasn’t faded. He still blames them for his narrow election defeat in Georgia, even though state election officials have said there’s no indication of fraud after three ballot counts and multiple investigations and court challenges.

The governor and others have tried to change the conversation by pointing to the rewrite of the state’s election law that imposes new obstacles to voting. That was embraced by Kemp and his allies in part to appease angry Trump voters. Even that legislation, though, didn’t go far enough for Trump.

“Your election law is no good,” Trump told Fredericks.

Walker’s quasi debut

The former football star has waged an unconventional campaign banking on his celebrity since entering the race last month.

He’s avoided GOP rallies, refused most media interviews and declined to comment on the hottest topics in Republican politics. Instead, he’s spent his first days attending private campaign fundraisers, standing on the sidelines of football games and doing friendly appearances on Fox News.

 

He might be able to afford to take that approach because of his high name ID and endorsement from Trump, but that could change as he faces more attacks from GOP rivals. And Walker is beginning to step out on the campaign trail more.

Over the past week, he started a no-frills listening tour that included visits to a school and a charity group. And Saturday, for the first time since joining the contest, Walker will deliver a political speech before a large crowd.

While it’s not expected to be a revelatory exploration of his policy ideas — and it will take place before thousands of friendly supporters — his remarks could shed more light on his strategy and agenda.

The pro-Trump slate

Walker won’t be the only Georgia candidate in the spotlight. The president is set to promote other members of his ticket. That includes Burt Jones, a state senator running for lieutenant governor, and U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, who is challenging Raffensperger.

Trump’s blessing is valuable currency in a GOP primary where his influence still matters. But it’s a dream for Democrats who flipped last year’s elections with the help of anti-Trump sentiment from swing voters and liberals who might normally skip votes.

A Trump surprise

Former Democrat Vernon Jones is sure to use a speaking slot at the rally to tie himself to Trump now that he’s rebranded himself a far-right conservative in a long-shot challenge to Kemp.

But Trump didn’t seem to know Jones was even in the race, let alone endorse him, in the Thursday interview. (“We’ll see who’s going to be running against Kemp, but I would imagine somebody will,” he said.)

Will the former president step up his efforts to seek a stronger challenger to Kemp?

What could be more interesting is whether Trump boosts other down-ticket candidates. State Sen. Brandon Beach, a onetime hopeful in the 6th Congressional District, has been showing up at “Trump Won” events and courting his support. And a host of other GOP candidates for state and federal office are eager for the former president’s blessing.

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