ATLANTA — No state has been at the center of Donald Trump's obsession with overturning his 2020 election defeat so much as Georgia. And Tuesday's primary results offered more of a rebuke than an embrace of his attempt to reshape the state GOP.
Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue was demolished by Gov. Brian Kemp despite making his allegiance to Trump — and his false claim that the election was "rigged and stolen" — the defining message of his campaign.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who famously resisted Trump's demand to "find" enough votes to reverse his defeat, notched a surprise victory over U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, who earned the former president's blessing after he voted to block the confirmation of Electoral College votes to seal Joe Biden's win.
And several down-ticket candidates endorsed by Trump because they clung to his lies about widespread election fraud sputtered against statewide incumbents closely tied to the governor.
But Trump's loyalists could claim victories beyond the five safe U.S. House incumbents he endorsed. State Sen. Burt Jones appeared headed toward at least a runoff — if not a clear victory — in his bid for lieutenant governor.
Two of Trump's picks for open U.S. House seats — attorney Jake Evans and former Democrat Vernon Jones — appeared bound for June matchups against rivals.
And Herschel Walker easily staved off five Republican rivals to win the party's nod for the U.S. Senate, setting him up for a November showdown against Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock.
The former football star, however, had such towering name recognition from his playing days he likely needed little help from the former president.
In all, Trump backed 13 Republican candidates in Georgia — some of them little-known in the state's political circles — as part of his mushrooming vendetta against Kemp.
The first-term Republican has been atop Trump's revenge list since he refused to call a special legislative session to overturn the state's election results and promote the then-president's false claims of systemic fraud.
Trump also intervened in down-ticket races to pressure important allies of the governor.
Attorney General Chris Carr, one of Kemp's most outspoken supporters, repelled a Trump-backed challenge from John Gordon, a semi-retired businessman who renewed his lapsed law license to help push Trump's failed legal challenge.
And Patrick Witt, a former White House official, was beaten by Insurance Commissioner John King, a former local police chief and Georgia National Guard leader who was on Trump's wrong side simply because he was appointed to the post by Kemp.
"We have to move forward. There's too much at stake in November," Carr said. "And if we don't come together, then you're going to have Stacey Abrams as governor."
Witt only launched his campaign after quitting the race for the open 10th Congressional District so another Trump loyalist — Vernon Jones — could have a clearer shot at the rural seat.
And how did Jones enter the race? He was a long-shot anti-Kemp candidate for governor when Trump persuaded him to run for Congress instead to give Perdue a clearer path to November.
Many analysts cautioned against drawing broad conclusions about what the results say about Trump's sway nationally.
But Martha Zoller, a conservative commentator with deep ties to the GOP's grassroots in the state, said the defeats of Trump-backed candidates left an unmistakable message about his influence in Georgia.
"Trump's endorsement is less important than it was three months ago, and it will be even less important three months from now," she said. "People are more concerned with their ability to buy fuel and groceries than looking back to the 2020 election."©2022 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Visit at ajc.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.