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In Georgia, Trump's pick for governor, who ran on election lies, loses


The power of former President Trump's endorsement was not enough for several candidates in Georgia's primary elections, which ended yesterday. Republican Governor Brian Kemp won renomination, defeating a challenger who denied Trump's defeat in 2020.


BRIAN KEMP: Conservatives across our state didn't listen to the noise. They didn't get distracted. They knew our record of fighting and winning for hardworking Georgians.

INSKEEP: Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger also won his primary outright. He had more than 50%, so he doesn't need a runoff. He's well-known for refusing to, quote, "find" enough votes to change the outcome of the 2020 election in Trump's favor. Stephen Fowler of Georgia Public Broadcasting has been covering all this. Stephen, welcome back.


INSKEEP: Anything surprise you about these results?

FOWLER: Honestly, the blowout level of Governor Brian Kemp was a surprise. He is one of the most conservative governors in the country. And even in the face of a Trump-backed challenger, he remained popular with voters for things like pay raises for teachers and state employees, championing rural job investments and his stances on social issues like abortion and voting laws. This outcome, Steve, is a huge deal. It continues the trend of incumbent governors surviving Trump challengers. And it shows that endorsements don't always Trump what voters see and experience on the ground. And there's room for liking the former president and having a different opinion about who should implement those policies.

INSKEEP: Endorsements don't always trump. You just kind of said that flatly, didn't, like, play the pun or anything. You're just saying a thing there. Now, as far as Brad Raffensperger goes, he also seems to have had a relatively easy time.

FOWLER: Right. He did end up finding enough votes for himself this time, winning in virtually every pocket of the state. Now, around midnight, his campaign said the remaining votes that are not yet counted are in areas that favor him and his margin will hold. He faced a candidate who said the 2020 election was fraudulent and raised questions about certifying future elections if Republicans didn't win. And voters took note of that. I called Raffensperger after he declared victory. And he said it was, quote, "rewarding" after all the misinformation.

BRAD RAFFENSPERGER: So for the last 14, 15 months, I've been traveling all over Georgia. I explain to people what happened in the election of 2020.

FOWLER: Another interesting data point to note here is there's a sizable number of people that previously voted in Democratic primaries that pulled Republican ballots this time. Anecdotally, it's a lot of people that wanted to vote for people like Raffensperger and Brian Kemp because they wanted trustworthy elections.

INSKEEP: I want to ask about one other result from yesterday. Republicans, as we have reported, are trying for a more diverse voter base in a more and more diverse state. And they nominated a Black candidate for United States Senate. What does that tell you?

FOWLER: Well, Herschel Walker's celebrity status in Georgia means he would have blown away the competition even if Trump did not back him. He's a legendary University of Georgia football player with decades of good will and good vibes from many people in the state. Here's part of Walker's victory speech.


HERSCHEL WALKER: I don't look like a politician.


WALKER: I don't talk like a politician. I don't even dress like a politician because my neck is a little bit too big for this tie.


WALKER: But I like not being a politician.

FOWLER: But coming with the territory of not being a politician is a parade of negative revelations about Walker, ranging from domestic violence allegations to reports of overinflated resume and business backgrounds. But none of it really seemed to stick. Some Republicans are worried, come November, that that'll be a liability in the race against Senator Raphael Warnock. But for now, Republicans are rallying behind Walker.

INSKEEP: OK. You mentioned Warnock. He's the Democratic senator seeking a second term. Stacey Abrams is the Democratic nominee for governor who will then face Governor Kemp. What to expect?

FOWLER: Well, Georgia's a fierce battleground in recent years. And certainly, that's not going to be any different this time. Democrats face a tough national environment. But the new slate of nominees is looking to capitalize on Republican infighting here. Republicans are fighting the trend of demographics and politics shifting away from them. But the strong showings by Kemp and Walker means unity might be a quicker, easier sell. One thing for sure, the wide margins we've seen in these primary races will not be returning this fall.

INSKEEP: Tight race ahead. Stephen, thanks so much.

FOWLER: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Stephen Fowler of Georgia Public Broadcasting. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Stephen Fowler
Stephen Fowler is a political reporter with NPR's Washington Desk and will be covering the 2024 election based in the South. Before joining NPR, he spent more than seven years at Georgia Public Broadcasting as its political reporter and host of the Battleground: Ballot Box podcast, which covered voting rights and legal fallout from the 2020 presidential election, the evolution of the Republican Party and other changes driving Georgia's growing prominence in American politics. His reporting has appeared everywhere from the Center for Public Integrity and the Columbia Journalism Review to the PBS NewsHour and ProPublica.