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Georgia’s Primaries May Be Trump’s Biggest Test Yet

Five states hold primary elections today, but it’s Georgia, with its busy slate of federal and state-level nomination contests, that is most on our minds. (You can read our preview of the other four states’ primaries here.) In total, 10 Georgia primaries have grabbed our attention, and in nearly all of them, the key question is once again whether the candidates endorsed by former President Donald Trump, mostly in connection to his false claim that his narrow loss in Georgia’s 2020 presidential vote was fraudulent, will prevail. Trump has become involved in almost two-thirds of the GOP primaries for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and attorney general, making Georgia his most endorsement-heavy state that’s voting today.

Yet Trump’s sway in Georgia may be limited. He’s endorsed seven non-incumbent Republican candidates across the six offices listed above, and while the five House incumbents he’s backed are likely to win, it’s unclear how many of the others will prove victorious outside of the Senate primary. This isn’t to say Trump’s influence is waning — remember that some of the GOP contenders he didn’t endorse are still pro-Trump — but it’s possible Georgia might be Trump’s most loss-filled state yet, which may discourage him from trying to throw his weight around in future primaries.

Races to watch: U.S. Senate, 2nd Congressional District, 6th Congressional District, 7th Congressional District, 10th Congressional District, 14th Congressional District, governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general

Polls close: 7 p.m. Eastern

Let’s start with the primary where one of Trump’s non-incumbent endorsees looks most likely to prevail: Georgia’s GOP primary for U.S. Senate, where former University of Georgia football star Herschel Walker looks to be on a glide path to the nomination. Primary polling has put him at around 60 percent or better, clearly above the 50 percent threshold of support he will need to avoid a runoff, including a poll released last week by Fox News that found Walker garnering 66 percent of the primary vote. In that survey, his closest competitor was state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, who took just 8 percent. In fact, Black is the only statewide elected official running against Walker, but his campaign never really took off. Walker ultimately consolidated Republican support, even among some initially skeptical party leaders like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

What to expect in Georgia’s much-anticipated primary

Barring a big surprise, then, Walker will face Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in November. Some Republicans have worried that Walker’s past might make him a weak general election candidate; Walker has faced allegations of domestic violence and making threats toward women, and he has struggled with mental health and faced scrutiny over aspects of his business record. Notably, too, Warnock has already achieved a record-setting fundraising haul, meaning the incumbent will have the resources to exploit Walker’s problematic past in attack ads. That said, even if Walker is damaged by these issues, the Republican-leaning electoral environment might be enough to elect him anyway in a state that, despite President Biden’s victory here in 2020, leans somewhat to the right of the country as a whole.

It’s a different story, though, for Trump’s candidate in Georgia’s Republican primary for governor. There, former Republican Sen. David Perdue looks to be headed for defeat. Angry at Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to sign off on Georgia’s 2020 election results, Trump threw his weight behind Perdue’s primary challenge. However, things have not played to the former president’s advantage. Namely, Kemp holds a solid lead in the polls: The same Fox News poll we cited earlier found Kemp leading Perdue 60 percent to 28 percent, up from Kemp’s 50-39 advantage in Fox News’s early March poll. Meanwhile, a Fox 5/Insider Advantage survey released on Sunday found Kemp only leading 52 percent to 38 percent, but that result still largely falls in line with other polling data that suggests Kemp is likely to win renomination without a runoff.

Perdue has also lagged behind Kemp on fundraising, and his focus on the 2020 election hasn’t led voters to doubt Kemp’s conservative credentials. Moreover, polls suggest Perdue, who lost a Senate runoff in January 2021, may be a weaker general election candidate than Kemp against the presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Stacey Abrams, who is running unopposed in her primary. Kemp narrowly defeated Abrams in the 2018 governor’s race, so the expectation of a competitive 2022 contest could be another consideration for GOP primary voters headed to the polls on Tuesday.

Trump likely won’t get his pick for governor, but his endorsed candidates for secretary of state and attorney general could find more success at the ballot box. And similar to Trump’s vendetta against Kemp, both picks are part of a widespread campaign to oust Republican incumbents who defended the legitimacy of the 2020 election and replace them with Trump-backed candidates who would then run future elections.

Take Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s chief election officer, who defended the legitimacy of Georgia’s 2020 results and rejected Trump’s demands to alter Georgia’s vote tally to put Trump ahead of Biden. This move earned Raffensperger Trump’s enmity and a significant primary challenge from Trump-backed Rep. Jody Hice. Speaking to Raffensperger’s vulnerability, Hice has outraised the incumbent $2.2 million to $1.7 million.

Yet Raffensperger still has a fighting chance, in part because he’s portrayed himself as a strong defender of election security by amplifying his support for Georgia’s new law that created more stringent voting rules. Limited polling over the past month and a half shows a highly uncertain race, too: One survey had Raffensperger ahead, another had Hice, and two others had the two candidates running neck and neck. With two other candidates also running, the race could go to a runoff, and the eventual GOP nominee could face a competitive general election against the Democratic nominee — most likely state Rep. Bee Nguyen, who has lapped the primary field in fundraising.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Chris Carr faces a head-to-head primary challenge from Trump-backed businessman John Gordon. Like Raffensperger, Carr has defended the integrity of Georgia’s 2020 election result, while Gordon has promised to expose the nonexistent widespread fraud. Just how weak Carr is, though, is tough to say. 

It’s possible Carr could have an edge, having raised nearly twice as much as Gordon, $2.6 million to $1.5 million, and he’s probably earned some goodwill among conservatives by launching or joining a number of lawsuits against the Biden administration. However, we don’t have a ton of polls of this race, and the ones we do have show a large share of undecided voters, suggesting it could go either way. The winner here will likely face Democratic state Sen. Jen Jordan in November in another potential slugfest.

Also near the top of the primary ballot is Georgia’s open-seat race for lieutenant governor. Unlike the incumbents running for governor, secretary of state and attorney general, Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan decided not to seek reelection after criticizing Trump and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. The GOP primary is now largely a contest between two state senators, Burt Jones and Butch Miller.

Trump has endorsed Jones, who has raised $4.1 million (including a $2 million loan to himself), and Jones has focused on election-related issues, including calls for an investigation into the 2020 election and the elimination of drop boxes for mail ballots. But Miller has rivaled Jones’s money, having raised $3.6 million. He’s also pushed more traditional conversative policy priorities in the state legislature, including a bill to ban transgender girls from playing high school sports that became law. He may also have gotten a late opening when news broke that Jones hadn’t been disclosing the use of his family’s private plane in campaign finance filings. But like some of the other down-ballot statewide races, there are a ton of undecided voters in the polls, so it’s hard to say how this race plays out. Democrats hope to make a play for this office, too, although they have a very crowded primary field, so a runoff seems likely to decide their nominee.

Turning to competitive primaries under Georgia’s new House map, Trump has weighed in on two open-seat contests in safely Republican districts. Former state ethics commission chair Jake Evans, Trump’s pick in the redrawn and now-much redder 6th District, may have a good shot at winning, too. Evans probably attracted Trump’s support thanks to his father Randy Evans, a major Trump donor who served as the U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg under Trump. And helpfully, the younger Evans had raised $1.6 million as of May 4, although nearly half of that was out of his own pocket.

Meanwhile, physician Rich McCormick, who narrowly lost as the GOP nominee for the 7th District in 2020, has raised $2.8 million (including $400,000 in self-funding) in his bid for the nomination. Two days before Trump backed Evans in early May, McCormick’s campaign released a poll showing him at 38 percent, far ahead of the rest of the nine-candidate field. But given the crowded primary field, a runoff seems likely, probably between Evans and McCormick, although another contender could also surprise — three others have raised at least $500,000.

Over in the dark-red 10th District, which Hice departed to run for secretary of state, former state Rep. Vernon Jones is also testing the power of a Trump endorsement. Jones initially announced a bid for governor, but Trump encouraged him to run here to help Perdue consolidate anti-Kemp support. But Jones, a Black man and former elected Democrat who attracted attention with his speech backing Trump at the 2020 Republican National Convention, previously represented areas outside this district and is potentially vulnerable as a recent Democratic officeholder.

Still, Jones has raised more than any of his seven opponents in the first four months of 2022, making him one of the front-runners here. Jones’s chief primary opponent is probably businessman Mike Collins, another strongly pro-Trump candidate who lost a primary to Hice in this district in 2014 and whose father Mac Collins served in the House for 12 years in the 1990s and early 2000s. We have no recent polling, but a runoff seems possible considering the crowded field.

The one House primary of interest where Trump has backed an incumbent is Georgia’s 14th District. In that seat, Trump endorsed lightning-rod Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who had to fend off a formal challenge by a group of voters attempting to remove her from the ballot based on allegations that she helped foment the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.

One of Greene’s primary challengers, health care executive Jennifer Strahan, has attracted some notoriety and funding from outside groups in her bid to offer the district’s voters a conservative but less controversial alternative to Greene. However, Greene has raised a massive $9.3 million this cycle, so there’s little reason to think that she is vulnerable to a primary challenge. Democrats have a contested primary here, too, with a clear front-runner in U.S. Army veteran Marcus Flowers. But even if he does win the nomination, Flowers stands no chance of defeating Greene in this deep-red district, despite attracting ample attention and a dizzying amount of money.

The last Republican primary we’ll examine has seen no involvement from Trump, but it’s a race where the eventual GOP nominee could flip a Democratic-held seat. Longtime Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop is defending the light blue 2nd District in southwest Georgia, and six Republicans are vying for the chance to take him on. We haven’t seen any polling here, but the favorite may be former Army officer Jeremy Hunt, who has outraised the rest of the field and has endorsements from Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Josh Hawley of Missouri. However, Hunt’s ties to the district are tenuous, as he only registered to vote in the area back in February, so it’s possible real estate agent and Air National Guard officer Chris West or former Trump administration official Wayne Johnson might be able to best him.

Having looked mostly at GOP contests, we’ll close with the most high-profile Democratic battle today: the party’s primary in the blue 7th District in suburban Atlanta. This increasingly bitter contest features one of the six member-versus-member primaries this cycle, and it’s a showdown between Democratic Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux and Lucy McBath. Last November, McBath decided to run in the 7th after Republican mapmakers transformed her formerly swingy 6th District into a safe GOP seat. On paper, though, Bourdeaux might have an edge because she currently represents 57 percent of the new seat’s population, while McBath only represents 12 percent.

Yet McBath, who is Black, may be a better fit than Bourdeaux, who is white, for a district with a voting age population that is only 33 percent white. McBath has also raised more money and has the backing of pro-gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety, given McBath first got involved in politics after her son was shot and killed at a gas station. McBath has also benefited from $5.1 million in spending from outside groups (including $1.9 million from Everytown), while hardly anyone has come in to help Bourdeaux.

Bourdeaux arguably has a slightly more liberal voting record than McBath, but that might be overshadowed by Bourdeaux’s effort with eight other Democratic House members last year to force a vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill before considering a larger social spending package, a move that drew the ire of progressives. Still, Bourdeaux has criticized McBath for abandoning her seat to Republicans without a fight, and with no recent polling, we don’t really know where this race stands. It could even go to a runoff, as state Rep. Donna McLeod is also running and could win just enough votes to keep both candidates under 50 percent.

Trump’s influence in GOP primaries will be sharply tested in Georgia, and a host of down-ballot races could prove to be quite competitive. We’ll be covering all of that on our live blog tonight, as well as the primaries in Alabama, Arkansas, Minnesota and Texas, so please join us!

Geoffrey Skelley is a senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.