Pence campaigns for Kemp against Trump-backed primary challenger
▶ Watch Video: Republican candidates in Georgia governor’s race face off in second debate
Former Vice President Mike Pence is headlining a primary election-eve campaign event next week for Governor Brian Kemp, who is facing a Trump-backed primary challenger in former Senator David Perdue.
Pence will rally with Kemp on Monday, May 23, ahead of the May 24 GOP primary in Georgia. Former President Trump has thrown his weight behind Purdue — the former president still harbors a grudge over Kemp for refusing to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia. The Atlanta Journal Constitution first reported the former vice president would campaign for Kemp.
The endorsement sets up a proxy war between Pence and Trump in a key battleground state. Trump has focused his ire about the 2020 election on Kemp for certifying the election results in his state. He encouraged Perdue to run a primary against him, and Perdue has echoed Trump’s false claims about the election. In a recent debate, Perdue even began his opening remarks by saying the election was stolen.
The Georgia gubernatorial primary will be another big test of Trump’s endorsement power. Kemp has been leading in polls, basing his campaign on his record as the incumbent and focusing on jobs and the economy and contrasts with the likely Democratic opponent Stacey Abrams.
Pence’s endorsement also shows the extent to which he may be building his political capital in this year’s midterm elections, signaling ambitions to run for the GOP nomination in 2024. While he was vice president, he campaigned for Perdue and Senator Kelly Loeffler in the state’s runoff races in January 2021 and urged Republicans to turn out and vote for the two Republican incumbents as the last line of defense against a Democratic Senate. At the time, Trump was focusing on a “rigged election” that Republican operatives in the state thought deterred their voters from showing up in the runoff. Ultimately, Perdue and Loefller lost their races, and Democrats took control of the Senate.
Pence has clashed with Trump on the validity of the 2020 election and the suggestion by the former president that Pence somehow could have changed the outcome.
“There are those in our party who believe that as the presiding officer of the joint session of Congress that I possessed unilateral authority to reject Electoral College Votes,” Pence said in a speech to the Federalist Society in February. “And I heard this week that President Trump said I had the right to overturn the election. President Trump is wrong. I had no right to overturn the election.”
Kemp has stood his ground in defending the way he and Georgia election officials handled the 2020 presidential campaign. Kemp was first election to the governor’s office in 2018, defeating Democrat Stacey Abrams. If he prevails in the primary, he will again face Abrams, who is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination.
Aaron Navarro contributed to this report.