Stunner: New poll shows Kemp on track to beat Perdue -- without a runoff

AP Photo/John Bazemore

Some of my fellow Never Trumpers have been keen lately to push back on the claim that Trump is losing his grip on the GOP.

For good reason. If he has lost some of his grip, he ain’t lost much:

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When even the candidates you *haven’t* endorsed try to position themselves as the true heir to your political legacy, that’s a pretty tight grip you’ve got.

But if David Perdue goes down in flames in Georgia, it’ll be strong circumstantial evidence that Trump’s grip has slackened a bit. Particularly because he’s invested more political capital in ousting Brian Kemp in Georgia than he has in any race apart from Liz Cheney’s.

The latest numbers from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution suggest that not only will Kemp win this primary, he’ll do it with a clear majority in the first round. Trump’s yearlong vengeance campaign in Georgia may not even succeed in holding his nemesis to less than 50 percent on the first ballot.

Kemp led Perdue 53% to 27% in the poll of likely voters in the Republican primary, which is now less than a month away. That would put the governor above the majority-vote threshold needed to avoid a June runoff. Other challengers were in the single digits; an additional 15% were undecided…

Perdue only outpolled Kemp among likely GOP voters who said a Trump endorsement would make them more likely to vote for a candidate, leading him 55% to 30% among that group. But a majority of respondents said Trump’s blessing made no difference or made them less likely to back a contender.

Adding to Perdue’s challenge, 71% of respondents gave Kemp a positive review, compared with 21% who viewed him unfavorably. By contrast, 57% of likely GOP voters had a favorable view of Perdue and nearly one-third had a negative image of him.

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Just 27 percent of Republican primary voters said Trump’s endorsement makes them “much more likely” to support a candidate, coincidentally matching Perdue’s share of the vote exactly. Even if you assume that Perdue wins the lion’s share of the undecideds, it’s not unthinkable that Kemp will notch 60 percent of the vote against Trump’s handpicked “stop the steal” avenger.

One could view that as a testament to Trump’s abiding strength. Kemp is an incumbent governor, has a solid conservative record, and faces a lackluster opponent who fumbled away his Senate race last year — yet he’s still struggling to net 60 percent of the vote in the primary thanks to the intense loyalty some voters still feel for Trump.

On the other hand, if Kemp pulls it off despite having failed Trump’s “rigged election” litmus test spectacularly, certain assumptions about Trump’s iron grip on the GOP will need to be revisited. He’s made video endorsements for Perdue, held rallies for Perdue, and has even taken the unusual step of spending money on Perdue. The drumbeat of Kemp criticism from Mar-a-Lago continues to this day:

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Lackluster though he may be, Perdue also has the benefit of high name recognition in Georgia after having served six years as a senator. Nevertheless, Kemp’s on track to beat him decisively. Trump’s grip on the party is firm but it’s no longer iron.

The AJC poll isn’t an outlier either:

If Kemp wins, there’ll be an ongoing postmortem this summer among political junkies as they compare his victory to how other anti-Trump Republicans fared in their own primaries. From those results, analysts will try to tease out a theory of how a Republican politician can be on the wrong side of “stop the steal” yet still fend off a Trump-backed challenger. For instance, if Kemp wins but the House GOPers who voted for impeachment end up getting wiped out, how will we explain those seemingly conflicting results? Possibilities:

1. Republicans view gubernatorial races as more important than House races. It doesn’t much matter who represents you in a body of 435 members but who governs your state is sufficiently meaningful that those incumbents get some extra slack.

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2. Kemp famously took steps to improve “election integrity” after 2020 by signing Georgia’s new election bill into law. Then he refused to budge when outfits like MLB pressured him to reverse. He earned some “stop the steal” brownie points from that.

3. Importantly, despite all the criticism from Trump, Kemp has never hit back. Some MAGA voters seem to hate Liz Cheney because they regard her disdain for Trump as disdain for them. Kemp has never given them cause to feel the same about him.

4. Relatedly, voting to impeach Trump may signal a degree of “disloyalty” to Republican voters that Kemp’s insistence on certifying Georgia’s election doesn’t match. In fact, Kemp has said often that Georgia law left him no wiggle room on whether to certify or not. Once the certification process reached the governor’s desk, he was required by statute to proceed. Maybe that logic has persuaded some election truthers: “He was just doing his job.”

5. Kemp has a major fundraising advantage over Perdue. Money matters. Not every anti-Trump Republican may be so lucky vis-a-vis their own opponents.

6. The fact that a famous progressive boogeyman is awaiting the winner of this primary may be a blessing in disguise for Kemp. Stacey Abrams is a formidable candidate, as she proved by nearly beating him in 2018. Since then her political star has only risen and Georgia has turned bluer. Beating her will be no easy feat even in a Republican wave year. But the fact that Georgia has a daunting Democratic nominees may be giving wary Republicans there a reason to stick with Kemp in the primary whatever their misgivings about the last election. He’s proved he can beat her whereas Perdue couldn’t beat Jon Ossoff. If your top priority as a conservative is keeping Abrams away from the governor’s office, the choice is clear. It’s apt to be far less clear in House races involving Republicans who voted to impeach.

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All of which is to say, it’s possible that Trump will have good luck in most of this year’s primaries and still faceplant in Georgia. In which case, the likely verdict from politicos will be that his grip on the party remains vise-like except in very particular circumstances.

But him losing his grip has to start somewhere. Georgia may be it. The new AJC poll finds Brad Raffensperger — the bete noire of election truthers — also leading his race (albeit only slightly, 28/26) while 60 percent of Republican voters say they believe the upcoming election will be at least “somewhat” fair, which may reflect support for the state’s new election law.

I posted this yesterday but will leave it here again as a further comment on the great “losing his grip” debate. If Kemp does win, I think one of the great “silent” factors will be the example governors like him, DeSantis, and Greg Abbott have set over the last few years to show MAGA voters that Trump isn’t the only populist in the party who can accomplish things they support. In 2016, he was the only game in town. Not so in 2022. And it’s starting to show in polls like this.

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John Stossel 5:30 PM | July 13, 2024
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