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How To Win Without Trump—or Biden

May 26, 2022
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Some primaries matter more than others. Georgia’s on Tuesday mattered a lot.

The Peach Tree State’s incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp walloped former Sen. David Perdue 74% to 22% despite Mr. Perdue’s endorsement from former President Donald Trump, backed with $3.1 million from his PAC. In a huge turnout, Mr. Kemp carried all the state’s 159 counties, even taking Mr. Perdue’s home county of Glynn by 40 points.

Attorney General Chris Carr, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Insurance Commissioner John King also overcame Trump-endorsed challengers—and in Mr. Raffensperger’s case, an unrelenting barrage of slashing personal attacks from the former president.

Mr. Kemp’s win provides valuable lessons for other Republican candidates, in both primaries and general elections. The governor played down the importance of Mr. Trump’s opposition, saying, “He’s mad at me. I’m not mad at him.” Mr. Kemp never allowed the race to be about the former president or Mr. Trump’s criticism of him for failing to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results.

Instead, Mr. Kemp made the contest about his own record, highlighting his handling of the Covid pandemic, economic development initiatives, and leadership in passing essential reforms to improve education, cut taxes, crack down on crime, make it easier to vote and harder to cheat, and limit abortions. By emphasizing how successfully he had governed as a conservative, the governor reminded Republicans why they liked him in the first place.

Mr. Kemp also focused on the challenge the GOP faces from Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams. He pointed to her far-left views and said if Mr. Perdue couldn’t beat Jon Ossoff—arguably a lackluster candidate—in last year’s Senate runoff, then he couldn’t beat Ms. Abrams this November. Mr. Kemp, on the other hand, went toe-to-toe with Ms. Abrams four years ago and walked away the winner.

There are also lessons Tuesday for Democrats. Despite White House protestations that President Joe Biden will indeed seek a second term, more and more Democrats have realized that nominating an 81-year-old in 2024 would be a terrible error—and that this particular octogenarian will likely bring a poor approval rating with him. There’s a growing sense that things won’t miraculously get better for the Democratic president, especially on the economy with persistent inflation and growing threats of a recession. Another Democrat will have to step forward, and Mr. Kemp’s race gives a good model of how to do it.

Members of Congress and Mr. Biden’s cabinet can’t so easily distance themselves from president and party, but Democratic governors are in a better position to. Just as Mr. Kemp handled Mr. Trump by rising above him, so could Democratic governors transcend Mr. Biden by using their records to outline a new Democratic vision.

There are ambitious Democratic governors who sure seem like they want to run in 2024, including North Carolina’s Roy Cooper, New Jersey’s Phil Murphy, California’s Gavin Newsom, Colorado’s Jared Polis, Illinois’s J.B. Pritzker and Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer. Even Ms. Abrams, still a candidate, is interested in a White House bid. Yet while they yearn to dominate the national stage, it’s unclear who has the necessary skills and most must get re-elected first.

Speaking of Ms. Abrams, Tuesday’s Georgia results also provided her food for thought on the coming general election. With some scattered votes to be tallied, GOP turnout is 1,196,065 and Democratic turnout 717,433 While Democratic turnout increased 30% over the last midterm in 2018, Republican turnout increased 96% over 2018 and there were 66% more GOP voters than Democrats this year.

 

Also, Ms. Abrams may not be the skilled candidate some thought. Tuesday’s primary was the first run under Georgia’s new election law, which she has previously denounced as “voter suppression.” Yet turnout hit a record high, lines were few and the count quick and smooth. It’s clear Ms. Abrams’ claims were utterly false. Still, she now says high turnout was “causation without correlation” and that “increased turnout has nothing to do with voter suppression.” If her statements strike you as nonsense, you’re not alone.

Then there was her poorly aimed salvo at Mr. Kemp. In response to his praise of the Georgia economy, she said Saturday “I am tired of hearing about being the best state in the country to do business when we are the worst state in the country to live.” She then said, “let me contextualize,” explaining Georgia put too many people in jail, provided too few mental health services and had too high a “maternal mortality” rate. When a politician transforms the word “context” into a verb, it’s a sure sign of oral misfire. Though she still refuses to admit she was defeated, Ms. Abrams lost to Mr. Kemp by 1.4% in 2018, a good year for Democrats. This year is shaping up to be considerably different.

Georgia provided many instructive lessons Tuesday. Let’s see if candidates can apply them.

Read More at the WSJ

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