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Tom Baxter

He’ll draw a crowd, but will Trump help his chosen candidates?

Photo by Kelly Jordan

By Tom Baxter

We can expect an enthusiastic crowd of supporters will be at the Banks County Dragway in Commerce Saturday to greet former President Donald Trump at a rally in support of his chosen Georgia candidates in this year’s elections. The question is how much that’s going to help the candidates.

According to a tally kept by Ballotpedia, Trump has endorsed candidates in some 120 races this year, including 14 governor’s races and 15 U.S. Senate races.

Trump’s quest to remake the Republican Party in his image has started with what you could call a qualified bang. In the only Republican primary we’ve had so far this year, in Texas, all 33 of the candidates endorsed by Trump either won or got in a runoff. However, 25 of those 33 were incumbents, like Gov. Greg Abbott, who would normally have been the favorites anyway. This raises what, for Georgia especially, is the big question: What’s going to happen when those Trump endorses are challenging another Republican or running for an open seat?

In other states, Trump’s endorsees aren’t faring so well. This has a lot to do with the candidates themselves, as well as the often underestimated power of incumbency. If they could be candid, the endorsed candidates might add that Trump’s comments haven’t helped much, either.

Idaho has the only other governor’s race besides Georgia’s in which a Trump candidate is challenging a Republican incumbent. Idaho Gov. Brad Little had a 41-point lead, 59-18 percent, over Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin in a poll taken in December, more than a month after Trump endorsed McGeachin.

The two open U.S. Senate races in Georgia’s neighboring states of Alabama and North Carolina have so far been a train wreck for Trump candidates. In Alabama, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, considered the odds-on favorite after Trump endorsed him last year, has fallen to a distant third in the latest polls. Trump has called Brooks’ performance “disappointing” and has even hinted in recent days he might endorse one of the other candidates. (Update: Trump withdrew his endorsement of Brooks on Tuesday.)

That’s another problem for the endorsees. Many of their rivals have embraced Trumpism without Trump’s endorsement, and Trump has done little to give them confidence he won’t jump ship if circumstances warrant it.

In North Carolina’s Senate race, a couple of recent polls have shown former Gov. Pat McCrory with a double-digit lead over Trump’s candidate, U.S. Rep. Ted Budd. Trump attempted to get the third candidate in that race, former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, out of the way by offering to endorse him in a congressional race, just as he did with Vernon Jones in Georgia. Unlike Jones, who dropped out of the governor’s race to run in the race for the 10th Congressional District, Walker has already done a stint in Congress and refused Trump’s overture. If Budd doesn’t pick up traction soon, you have to wonder if Trump might start talking about changing horses in that race as well.

In South Carolina, Trump has gone gunning for two Republican House members: Nancy Mace, who condemned Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, and Tom Rice, who voted to impeach him.

Mace, who is supported by former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, led her Trump challenger, Katie Arrington, by 29 points in an early February poll. Since then Mace has also picked up the endorsement of former Trump chief of staff Mark Mulvaney. Rice is believed to be facing a tougher race against his Trump challenger, Russell Fry, but there’s been no public polling yet to bear that out.

In races like these, it has become routine to ask Republican voters who they prefer a second time after reminding or informing them which candidate has Trump’s blessing. This usually causes the numbers to tighten, but it seldom changes who’s in the lead. It may not make as much difference in Georgia, because Trump’s feud with Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has been thoroughly publicized.

It’s going to be national news when Trump returns to the state that is Ground Zero in his continuing dispute with the results of the 2020 election. But it won’t be nearly the news it would have been a month ago. Trump may still be fixated on the 2020 election, but the rest of the country is worried about the war in Ukraine.

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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