Kemp is taking a political risk by defying Trump: He’s hoping that Collins is bluffing in his threat to challenge Loeffler next November, a move that would divide the party at the worst possible time. If Democrats can rally around a leading recruit and the GOP is hopelessly split, their candidate would have a credible chance to win the race outright with 50 percent. But if Loeffler clears the GOP field, she’d be an immediate favorite and would improve the GOP’s chances at holding both the Senate seat and Kemp’s governorship in the subsequent election.
It’s important to appreciate that Republicans in Georgia campaign like hard-line conservatives and govern like pragmatists. Former Gov. Nathan Deal, a down-the-line conservative in Congress, became a highly popular chief executive known for bipartisan deals on criminal-justice reform and education funding. Abrams even praised the governor’s legacy during her 2018 campaign.
Likewise, Kemp surprised his critics by naming a diverse group of officials to the state judiciary and other powerful positions. He passed a sizable teacher pay raise. His favorability rating is a healthy 54 percent, according to a November Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll, with just 36 percent viewing him negatively.