Vernon Jones launches primary challenge to GA Governor Brian Kemp

AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

Former Georgia state lawmaker Vernon Jones launched a primary challenge against Governor Brian Kemp today at the Georgia Capitol. Jones was a Democrat during his time in office in the Georgia House of Representatives and as Chief Executive Officer of DeKalb County, Georgia. He switched to the Republican Party and endorsed Donald Trump for re-election. Now he’d like to have Kemp’s job.

“On this historical day, I am planting my flag on the hallowed grounds of the Georgia state Capitol,” Jones said. “I am officially announcing my candidacy for governor of the great state of Georgia.

Jones made headlines with his support of Trump before he officially switched parties. He was given a speaking slot at the Republican National Convention last summer. He appeared frequently on FNC to speak as an African-American on the inroads Trump was making on issues important to the black community. He has the record of a perpetual candidate, having run unsuccessfully for the United States Senate, United States House of Representatives, and DeKalb County Sheriff. I’m not giving him very good odds in successfully defeating Kemp in the GOP primary.

The question is whether or not Donald Trump encouraged Jones to get into the race. Trump and Kemp have bad blood between them since Kemp chose Kelly Loeffler over Trump loyalist Rep. Doug Collins to replace Senator Johnny Isakson and then after Kemp refused to go along with Trump’s demands during the Georgia vote recounts after the 2020 presidential election. In January, Trump vowed to return to Georgia and campaign against Kemp during the GOP primary. Is Trump floating a challenge from Jones against Kemp as revenge? Herschel Walker’s name has been floated as a potential challenger but most recently Walker’s name has come us as a Trump-backed challenger against Senator Warnock. One glaring problem with a Walker candidacy for either the Senate or against Governor Kemp is that Walker lives in Texas, not Georgia.

If Jones’ desire to challenge Kemp plays well, Trump could take credit for recruiting a black former Democrat to run for governor in Georgia, assuming he can defeat Kemp. Looking at that scenario, it would put Jones up against Stacey Abrams, who most assuredly is looking at a re-match against Kemp. In that match-up, Abrams wins. There is no way Jones would beat Abrams. Democrats will be hyper-energized to reward Abrams for her success in getting two Democrats from Georgia elected to the Senate. Will Trump’s support be important in 2022 campaigns?

Jones is hoping to capitalize on the incumbent governor’s perceived disloyalty to Trump, who has already vowed to support a primary challenge to Kemp.

“Right now, those of you who feel you have been not listened to, those of you who feel frustration. I feel your pain. For those of you who feel your voices weren’t heard, for those of you who feel the incumbent governor didn’t fight for you, a new day has dawned.”

The budding Georgia Republican gubernatorial primary is expected to be one of the highest-profile tests of Trump’s influence over the GOP in his post-presidential life.

Jones clearly wants Trump’s support and blames Kemp for the president’s loss in Georgia.

He blamed Kemp and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, another Republican who broke with Trump’s claims that the election was stolen from him, for the former president’s loss in Georgia, as well as for two GOP losses in a pair of January Senate runoff elections in the state.

Jones said that Kemp and Raffensperger should resign.

“As a result of the governor’s fear of Stacey Abrams and the left, he cost us two Republican U.S. Senate seats and the president’s reelection,” Jones said.

Kemp’s popularity took a hit after the election. He’s on his way back up in polls now, though, after a strong showing due to signing the election reform law.

A new Morning Consult poll found that Kemp’s popularity among local GOP voters rose 12 points from 62 percent on March 25, the date the Georgia governor signed the bill, to 74 percent on April 6.

His approval rating among all voters in the state has also risen from 52 percent before he signed the Georgia election law to 55 percent after the bill was green lit.

Trump has not endorsed anyone yet as a challenger to Kemp. Jones’ campaign kick-off announcement is reported to have been “sparsely attended” by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

At a sparsely attended kickoff event outside the state Capitol, Jones delivered a roughly 30-minute speech where he called Kemp a phony conservative and pledged to replace Georgia’s voting system, which came under attack by pro-Trump conspiracy theorists after Biden’s victory.

As he signed autographs for a small group of supporters, Jones refused to answer a question about how he can attract GOP support as a lifelong Democrat or say whether he expects to receive Trump’s endorsement.

Kemp’s campaign is eager to contrast the two candidates. Kemp is Georgia’s first lifelong Republican governor since Reconstruction and Jones is a party-switching Democrat who only jumped on the Trump bandwagon last year. Jones has some baggage Kemp can use in a campaign, including an accusation of rape. As a Democrat, he voted on the wrong side of both gun and abortion legislation. The campaign ads will write themselves if Jones remains in the race.