Republican voters in Georgia have defied former US president Donald Trump and selected Brian Kemp overwhelmingly as their candidate for governor.
With about 9 per cent of the vote counted, Kemp had amassed three times the numbers of votes as his main rival — enough for the Associated Press to declare him the winner.
The vote is a bloody nose for Trump, who vilified Kemp for certifying Joe Biden’s election victory in Georgia in 2020. Trump had called Kemp a “turncoat” and a “coward” and campaigned heavily for his opponent, David Perdue.
The result added to a mixed set of primaries for the former president, who continues to suggest he will run again for president in 2024. Some of the candidates he has endorsed have chalked up notable victories, such as JD Vance in Ohio and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania.
But others have fallen short, such as Madison Cawthorn in North Carolina. Mehmet Oz, the daytime television star who Trump backed for senator from Pennsylvania, is heading for a recount in his race against David McCormick, the former hedge fund boss.
Kemp spent Monday campaigning alongside Mike Pence, the former vice-president to whom Trump has also attached blame for his 2020 election loss.
“I’ve had a great relationship with Mike Pence; I had a great relationship with President Trump,” Kemp said on Monday. “I’ve never said anything bad about him, I don’t plan on doing that.
“I’m not mad at him, I think he’s just mad at me. That’s something I can’t control.”
Perdue, the former US senator who secured Trump’s endorsement, spent the last stage of the campaign engulfed in a dispute over remarks he made on Monday about Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate.
“[She] said Georgia’s the worst place in the country to live,” he told supporters about Abrams, who is black and has lived in Georgia since she was a teenager. Perdue claimed Abrams was “demeaning her race” with comments she made in 2018 that people should not have to go into agriculture or hospitality to earn a living.
Perdue conceded the race on Tuesday evening, saying: “Everything I said about Brian Kemp was true but here’s the other thing I said was true — he is a much better choice than Stacey Abrams, and so we are going to get behind our governor.”
Another Trump-endorsed Republican, Jody Hice, has been more competitive. Early results on Tuesday night showed him lagging Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger — who drew Trump’s ire by certifying Biden’s win in the state in 2020 — though Hice is expected to do better in the votes cast on polling day, which are counted later.
Herschel Walker, a former American footballer and Trump ally, also easily clinched the Republican nomination for a US Senate seat from Georgia. He will face the incumbent, Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock, in the general election this fall.
The power of Trump’s personal endorsement was also tested on Tuesday in Alabama, where Mo Brooks staged a late rally even after losing the former president’s endorsement to be a candidate for Congress.
Brooks was polling a distant third two months ago, prompting Trump to withdraw his backing. But a poll from Emerson college this month showed he had jumped 13 points and was one of three candidates with a viable chance of winning.
Trump’s backing may prove more successful in Texas, where Ken Paxton was set to beat George P Bush, one of the youngest members of the US political dynasty, in the race to become the Republican nominee for state attorney-general.
Paxton has backed Trump’s false claims to have won the 2020 election, and secured the former president’s support. That appears to have dispelled any doubts caused by the securities fraud charges that were brought against him seven years ago, and the more recent accusations of bribery while in office made by several of his deputies, all of which he has denied.