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Guess who’s not the lead story of this primary?

By Tom Baxter

Brian Kemp has now pulled off three of the most remarkable victories in the modern history of Georgia politics, so he should probably lead this post-primary column.

On the other hand, what Brad Raffensperger accomplished — winning the Republican primary for secretary of state without a runoff after being declared as good as dead by many loud voices in his party — might be Tuesday’s most remarkable result. He might be the lead.

But you know who isn’t the lead? Donald J. Trump. His vigorous attempts to exact vengeance on Kemp and Raffensperger, to install his loyalists up and down the ballot in Georgia, and even his championing of the Buckhead cityhood movement, all came to a clattering end Tuesday.

From the beginning, Georgia has been for Trump more an obsession than a necessity. He didn’t have to do any of this. And he made the enormous miscalculation that Republican primary voters in Georgia were equally obsessed with him. He may go on to other primary victories, and may well win his party’s presidential nomination again, but at best, Trump wasted his time in Georgia.

In the aftermath, both Trump die-hards and Democratic Trump-haters are attempting to inflate the impact Democratic crossover votes had on these outcomes. This obscures just how solidly Trump’s candidates were rejected by Republican voters.

With about a week left in the early voting period, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that 16,000 people who voted in the 2020 Democratic primary had voted Republican this year. We can assume that number increased through election day, but we shouldn’t assume they all voted the same way. Since they were, well, Democrats.

Kemp beat David Perdue by an astonishing 621,000 votes, which dwarfs even the most generous estimate of the size of the Democratic crossover. Raffensperger beat Jody Hice by 220,000 votes, but he had a harder time getting past the 50 percent mark because another challenger, David Belle Isle, got 103,000 votes. I calculate that Raffensperger got about 27,000 more votes than he needed to get over 50 percent. It’s possible there were enough Democratic crossover votes to make the difference in keeping Raffensperger out of a runoff, but that’s the most you can say about the Democratic crossover effect. Whatever this Republican primary said, about Trump or anything else, it was said by Republicans.

Two of Kemp’s remarkable victories have been Republican primary blowouts: this one, and his demolition of Casey Cagle in the 2018 governor’s race. The third, his win over Democrat Stacey Abrams in the 2018 general election, was very different. It was a narrow victory made possible only by increasing turnout in places where the population is declining.

This should be a different kind of race. In some respects both Kemp and Abrams come to it as incumbents: Kemp the incumbent governor, with a couple of huge development projects and a tax refund to tout, and Abrams the incumbent challenger, returning without a Democratic primary opponent, at the head of a major new voting rights organization.

As happy as it may make Democrats to see Trump get pounded, it’s potentially catastrophic for their chances in November. The political narrative since 2020 has centered on Trump’s bitter feud with Kemp and his attempts to take over Republican politics in the state.

Now, no Trump. It appears he’s not even going to release a statement about Georgia, despite Herschel Walker’s win in the U.S. Senate primary and Burt Jones’ in the lieutenant governor’s primary. We may not be seeing him again for a while.

The Georgia Republicans, meanwhile, are about as unified as they are likely ever to be, with fewer runoffs to sort out and whatever Abrams says next to get riled up over. That’s as much as they could have hoped for.

 

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Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

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