Business

Georgia's Primary Elections on Tuesday Are Pivotal. Here's What to Watch

Alyssa Pointer | Reuters
  • Georgia is holding pivotal primary elections Tuesday.
  • Key races will test former President Donald Trump's political power and set the table for a showdown in the general election over which party controls Congress.
  • Trump has endorsed multiple candidates mounting challenges against sitting Republicans, including Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
Jessica Mcgowan | Getty Images
A poll worker wears an "I'm a Georgia Voter" sticker at the Metropolitan Library polling location on May 24, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia.

The impact of Georgia's primary elections on Tuesday will reverberate far beyond state lines, as key races up and down the ballot test former President Donald Trump's political power and set the table for a showdown over which party controls Congress.

Trump has endorsed more than a dozen candidates in the Peach State primaries, some of whom are challenging incumbent Republicans who are up for reelection.

Those incumbents include Georgia's Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, two Republicans who both resisted pressure from Trump to overturn President Joe Biden's 2020 election win in the key swing state.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp speaks during a rally ahead of the state's Republican primary, in Kennesaw, Georgia, U.S. May 23, 2022. 
Alyssa Pointer | Reuters
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp speaks during a rally ahead of the state's Republican primary, in Kennesaw, Georgia, U.S. May 23, 2022. 

The Trump-backed challengers in both of those GOP primaries have echoed the former president's false claims that the 2020 presidential election results were tainted by widespread fraud and misconduct.

Trump has also thrown his weight behind Herschel Walker, a former NFL running back who is expected to advance to the general election for Senate against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. The election of Warnock over Republican Kelly Loeffler in a pivotal 2021 runoff election helped Democrats seize a razor-thin majority in the Senate.

Also endorsed by Trump is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose extreme conspiracy theories before and during her time in Congress have made her a polarizing figure in politics and a villain among Democrats.

For some of today's races, the key question may not be which candidate can receive more votes, but whether a candidate can avoid a runoff election by receiving more than 50% of the votes cast.

Georgia's primaries arrive as Republicans hope to wrest control of the House and Senate from the Democrats in the fall. Democrats are fighting uphill: The president's party tends to underperform in the midterm elections, and the lead-up to the primaries has been marked in part by high inflation and low approval ratings for Biden.

That dynamic holds true in the four other states — Alabama, Arkansas, Texas and Minnesota — that are also holding elections Tuesday.

In Arkansas, Trump's former press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is the daughter of ex-Gov. Mike Huckabee, is expected to win the GOP gubernatorial primary. Meanwhile in Alabama, GOP Rep. Mo Brooks is fighting in the primary for the state's open Senate seat after Trump rescinded his endorsement.

Polls in Georgia's primary elections are open Tuesday from 7 a.m. ET to 7 p.m. ET.

Here's what to watch:

Governor

Former Sen. David Perdue is trying again in Georgia, this time competing for the governor's office after losing in last year's Senate runoff race to Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff.

Former U.S. senator and Republican gubernatorial candidate David Perdue speaks at a campaign event on February 1, 2022 in Dalton, Georgia.
Elijah Nouvelage | Getty Images
Former U.S. senator and Republican gubernatorial candidate David Perdue speaks at a campaign event on February 1, 2022 in Dalton, Georgia.

But Perdue, who is endorsed by Trump and has campaigned in part on spreading the former president's debunked falsehoods about the 2020 presidential election, appears to be falling badly behind incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp.

Recent polls show Kemp heading into the primary with a double-digit lead over Perdue, his top GOP rival. That gap includes polls that were conducted after Trump's political action committee reportedly spent $500,000 on ads attacking Kemp in the gubernatorial contest.

Kemp, who in 2019 signed a highly restrictive abortion law, has cultivated a reputation as a staunch conservative. He has been endorsed by former Vice President Mike Pence, whom Trump has attacked over his refusal to reject Electoral College votes on Jan. 6, 2021.

Former Vice President Mike Pence and Governor Brian Kemp (R-GA) greets supporters after a campaign rally on May 23rd, 2022 in Kennesaw, Georgia.
Nathan Posner | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Former Vice President Mike Pence and Governor Brian Kemp (R-GA) greets supporters after a campaign rally on May 23rd, 2022 in Kennesaw, Georgia.

Kemp remains an enemy in the eyes of Trump, who has slammed the Republican as a "very weak governor" who has "failed Georgia."

"Most importantly, he can't win because the MAGA base — which is enormous — will never vote for him," Trump said in a statement endorsing Perdue, which was reposted by Trump's social media account on Monday.

But as of last week, Trump had no further plans to campaign in person for Perdue, whose campaign ad spending has also dried up completely, NBC News reported, citing sources close to Trump.

The Republican who advances to the general election will likely face Stacey Abrams, the progressive Democrat who narrowly lost to Kemp in the 2018 governor's race.

Kemp refused to step down as Georgia's secretary of state when he ran for governor, rebuffing critics' concerns about his participation in an election that his office was in charge of overseeing. Abrams in the wake of that loss has repeatedly said the race was unfair.

Secretary of state

In the GOP primary for Georgia's top elections officer, Trump has backed Rep. Jody Hice, one of the dozens of congressional Republicans who voted to challenge Electoral College results after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Days before that riot, then-President Trump called Raffensperger and urged him to "find 11,780 votes" — the number that Trump believed was required to overturn Biden's victory in Georgia.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger gives an afternoon update on the Georgia Primary Election at the election command center in Atlanta, Georgia, May 24, 2022.
Alyssa Pointer | Reuters
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger gives an afternoon update on the Georgia Primary Election at the election command center in Atlanta, Georgia, May 24, 2022.

Raffensperger refused, and the phone call was promptly leaked to the media. Trump, who had previously publicly attacked Kemp and Raffensperger, wrote on Twitter after the call that Raffensperger "has no clue!"

That phone call is being eyed in a criminal investigation looking into Trump's efforts to overturn the election results, overseen by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who's a Democrat.

Hice had supported a legal effort to overturn key swing states' 2020 election results. He has launched an array of attacks against Raffensperger's handling of the 2020 election, some of which fact-checkers have labeled false.

Senate

Walker, a Heisman Trophy winner and businessman who attended the University of Georgia, is expected to easily take the Republican nomination for Senate in Tuesday's primary.

Former college football star and current senatorial candidate Herschel Walker speaks at a rally, as former U.S. President Donald Trump applauds, in Perry, Georgia, U.S. September 25, 2021.
Dustin Chambers | Reuters
Former college football star and current senatorial candidate Herschel Walker speaks at a rally, as former U.S. President Donald Trump applauds, in Perry, Georgia, U.S. September 25, 2021.

Polls show Walker running more than 50 percentage points ahead of his closest rival, according to an average of recent surveys compiled by RealClearPolitics.

But Walker is likely to face much stronger opposition if he advances to the November election against incumbent Warnock.

The politically unseasoned athlete, who has skipped debates and faced accusations of avoiding nonfriendly press, can expect to face more heat in the general election, possibly about his reported history of alleged domestic abuse and making exaggerated claims about his business.

Early polls of the hypothetical Walker-Warnock matchup show the candidates virtually tied, according to RealClearPolitics.

House

In the Republican House primaries, Trump has also endorsed a number of loyalists who have challenged the 2020 election results. One of them, Rep. Andrew Clyde, stoked outrage last year when he claimed in a hearing that the violent pro-Trump mob that swarmed the Capitol on Jan. 6 looked more like a "normal tourist visit" than a riot.

U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) holds a news conference about her suspended Twitter account and the impending sale of Twitter at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. April 28, 2022. 
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) holds a news conference about her suspended Twitter account and the impending sale of Twitter at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. April 28, 2022. 

The most-watched House race in Georgia will likely be the 14th Congressional District, where freshman incumbent Greene is running for a second term in office. Greene was stripped of her committee assignments last year by the Democrat-led House as punishment for peddling a wide array of extreme views and conspiracy theories, including the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy, before taking office.

More recently, media outlets revealed that in the days after the Capitol riot, Greene had texted then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows urging him to talk to Trump about imposing martial law.

An election-reform group had filed a lawsuit to try to kick Greene out of the primary race, alleging that her comments and actions related to the Capitol riot disqualified her from office. But a judge ruled against that group, and Raffensperger ruled earlier this month that Greene's reelection campaign can continue.

A test of Trump's endorsement

Perhaps more than in any other state this election cycle, Georgia's primaries mark a test of whether Trump, 15 months after the end of his single term in the White House, still holds the same sway over the direction of the GOP.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during his rally in Selma, North Carolina, U.S., April 9, 2022. 
Erin Siegal | Reuters
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during his rally in Selma, North Carolina, U.S., April 9, 2022. 

Some political watchers view Trump's endorsement record in the current primary cycle as a key measure of his influence. But others have noted that Trump's win-loss record may not tell a complete story.

While most of Trump's endorsees have won their primaries, some of those candidates ran with little or no opposition. Others, such as Pennsylvania's Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano, received Trump's endorsement right before the election, once they had already emerged as frontrunners.

In Georgia's primaries, Trump endorsed three Republican House members in safe districts just days before Election Day.

Among high-profile contested races, Trump's record is more mixed. Some of Trump's endorsements appeared to make a major difference, such as his backing of Rep. Alex Mooney, a West Virginia Republican who won his House primary. Another candidate, J.D. Vance, prevailed in a viciously competitive Ohio Republican Senate primary after winning Trump's support.

Other Trump-endorsed candidates lost big. Businessman Charles Herbster failed to clinch the GOP nomination for the Nebraska governor's race, even after Trump held a rally in the state and defended Herbster against recent sexual-misconduct allegations that had roiled his campaign. Herbster denied the accusations from multiple women.

Rep. Madison Cawthorn, a first-term Republican from North Carolina, also lost his primary despite his incumbent status and an endorsement from Trump. Cawthorn, the youngest member of Congress, was dragged down by a laundry list of scandals that had alienated him from many of his fellow congressional Republicans, including North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis.

Trump-backed gubernatorial candidate Janice McGeachin, Idaho's lieutenant governor, lost by a wide margin in her challenge of the state's incumbent Republican Gov. Brad Little. Unlike Kemp and other incumbent Republicans being challenged by Trump's picks, Little had not publicly stoked Trump's anger prior to Trump's endorsement of McGeachin.

Copyright CNBCs - CNBC
Contact Us