Georgia’s 2022 campaign season is getting an early start, now with a former Democratic legislator who turned Republican after he endorsed Donald Trump announcing his bid to challenge Gov. Brian Kemp in the primary.
Former state Rep. Vernon Jones said as governor he will be the standard-bearer for the Republican faction led by Trump and is the only candidate who can beat Stacey Abrams, the favorite to make another run as the Democratic challenger for governor.
Jones will try to capitalize on still simmering anger among the Trump faithful after the former president demanded Kemp resign for refusing to overturn his narrow 2020 Georgia election loss to President Joe Biden.
Georgia’s top-of-the-ticket challenge highlights a flurry of campaign announcements for the 2022 election cycle that also features contests for a U.S. Senate seat, secretary of state, attorney general and other statewide races on the ballot.
Friday, several dozen people and media gathered at Liberty Plaza outside the Georgia Capitol as Jones assailed the liberal agenda of his former political party, the media, and “woke” corporations.
He criticized Kemp for declining to call for a special legislative session to challenge Trump’s Nov. 3 election loss in Georgia.
If elected, Jones said he plans to get rid of the statewide $104 million Dominion Voting System used for the first time in 2020, a target of many Trump allies who peddled unfounded conspiracy theories that the voting machines flipped thousands of votes in favor of Biden.
“Georgia deserves a transparent government that understands it works for the people, and not the other way around,” Jones said. “The governor’s office has failed to fight for you and for me. He failed those of us who hold dear our freedoms, our Constitution and the right to a free, fair and transparent election.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re here in the midst of a battle that will determine the future of not just Georgia, but the future of America and our great experiment known as democracy,” Jones added.
In January, Jones declared that he was joining the Republican party after months of starring at Trump rallies and speaking at the GOP convention, putting an end to a long and rocky relationship with fellow Democrats.
The former DeKalb County CEO faces an uphill battle to upend Kemp, who has galvanized his base as they battle Democrats, various corporations, and others over the state’s new voting law, which Trump says should be more restrictive.
Kemp’s campaign fired a quick salvo at Jones’ voting record, pointing out that it doesn’t match up with the conservative values Jones says he is fighting for.
“Vernon Jones is a lifelong Democrat, voted for Barack Obama, supported gun control, and voted against Georgia’s heartbeat bill. He is not a Republican, and he certainly is not a conservative,” said Kemp’s campaign manager Bobby Saparow. “Assuming he actually stays in the race, we look forward to contrasting Gov. Kemp’s successful conservative record with Vernon Jones’ liberal, corrupt tenure in public life.”
County Republican groups gathered over the weekend with several across Georgia passing resolutions criticizing Kemp for failing to do more to overturn Georgia’s 2020 presidential election results.
Jones could become a thorn in Kemp’s side if he is the only Republican challenger, said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock.
No sitting Georgia governor has lost a primary since the state resumed allowing incumbents to seek re-election after 1974, he noted.
“I suspect there will be other challengers,” Bullock said of Jones’ chances. “And the others may have a stronger claim on Republican loyalty, having been Republicans much longer than Vernon.”
Busy 2022 election cycle
U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock is barely three months into his term and already challengers are lining up to run against him next year.
Warnock and U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff scored historic victories in Georgia as the two Democrats upset Republican incumbent Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in the Jan. 5 runoffs.
So far, Republicans Kelvin King and Latham Saddler have announced campaigns for the seat formerly held by Sen. Johnny Isakson, who stepped aside in 2019 because of health complications.
And two Republicans have lined up to face GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who endured withering criticism from members of his own party for not overturning the presidential election results. Congressman Jody Hice, a Greensboro Republican, announced plans to challenge Raffensperger, as has former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle.
Republican Attorney General Chris Carr is gearing up for an announced challenge from Democratic state Sen. Jen Jordan, who is a Sandy Springs attorney. And Atlanta attorney Charlie Bailey is seeking a rematch with Carr after his defeat in the 2018 election.
There will likely also be a new leader of the Senate with a senior aide to Republican Lt. Geoff Duncan saying he is unlikely to pursue a second term.
And several state legislators have expressed interest in running for Georgia Labor Commissioner after incumbent Republican Mark Butler endured withering criticism in the 2021 Legislature because of delays in processing unemployment benefits throughout the pandemic.
One of the benefits of entering a political race early is to avoid a situation where someone who would’ve supported them has already pledged to back another candidate, Bullock said.
“It also gives you an opportunity to begin your campaign and start accepting speaking engagements if you’re running statewide,” Bullock said.