Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia has easily dispatched Donald Trump’s hand-picked challenger in a Republican primary that demonstrated the limits of the former president and his conspiracy-fuelled politics in a critical US swing state.
Mr Kemp will face Democrat Stacey Abrams this autumn in what will be one of America’s most consequential governor’s races.
The results, combined with the loss of the Trump-backed candidate for Georgia’s secretary of state, served as a stinging rebuke for the former president in a state he prioritised above almost all others.
Angered by Mr Kemp’s refusal to go along with his extraordinary effort to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia, Mr Trump personally recruited former senator David Perdue to challenge the sitting governor.
He also helped clear the primary field and spent more than three million US dollars (£2.39 million) on the failed effort.
Mr Kemp ultimately emerged as a powerful candidate able to draw prolific fundraising totals that helped him flood Georgia with television and other ads.
He tapped into the power of his office to show voters what he could do for them, unveiling a 5.5 billion dollar (£4.3 billion), 8,100-job Hyundai Motor plant near Savannah in the final days of the campaign.
“Even in the middle of a tough primary, conservatives across our state didn’t listen to the noise. They didn’t get distracted,” Mr Kemp told cheering supporters, before calling on his party to rally behind his campaign.
In defeat, Mr Perdue struck a unifying tone that has become increasingly rare in a Republican Party dominated by Mr Trump’s hardline tactics.
“I want you to know tonight that I am fully supporting Brian Kemp in his run to beat Stacey Abrams,” Mr Perdue said.
“It’s emotional for all of us, we’re disappointed, I get that. Let’s take a few hours, lick our wounds, and tomorrow morning, you’re going to hear me going to work for Brian Kemp to make damn sure that Stacey Abrams is never governor of Georgia.”
In all, five states were voting on Tuesday, including Alabama, Arkansas, Texas and Minnesota. But none had been more consumed than Georgia by Mr Trump and his lie that the 2020 election was stolen.
Altogether, Mr Trump failed to replace all four Republican incumbents he targeted in the state, including the governor, attorney general and secretary of state.
Secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, who refused to support the former president’s direct calls to overturn the 2020 election, defeated Mr Trump’s choice, Jody Hice.
The Georgia losses become the latest examples of a primary setback for Mr Trump’s preferred candidates, who have lost governor’s races in Idaho and Nebraska.
A Pennsylvania senate primary is too close to call a week after the election.
However, Tuesday’s contests underlined the sustained power of Trumpism in Republican politics 18 months after he was voted out of office.
His preferred senate candidate in Georgia, Herschel Walker, easily won the nomination despite warnings from Mr Walker’s Republican competitors about his history of domestic violence and mental health struggles.
He will face Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock in the autumn in a race that could determine control of the chamber.
Regardless of Mr Trump’s involvement in their races, virtually all of the Republican candidates — even Mr Kemp — ran on “election integrity”.
That phrase that has emerged as a code for the former president’s baseless grievances about the 2020 election, which were roundly rejected by courts and his own attorney general.
Conservative candidates from Georgia to Arkansas to Texas also leaned into Mr Trump’s preferred culture wars by playing up concerns about transgender athletes, “critical race theory” and illegal immigration.
Sensing Mr Kemp’s strength in Georgia, however, other prominent Republicans had grown increasingly willing to defy the former president.
Mr Trump’s own vice president, Mike Pence, rallied with Mr Kemp in the Atlanta suburbs on Monday evening. Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who also campaigned for Mr Kemp and has been critical of Mr Trump, described his victory as “enormous”.
“I am so proud of and happy for my friend — and just as importantly for the Georgia GOP and the people of Georgia,” Mr Christie tweeted. “They were not going to kick out a great governor or be willing participants in the DJT (Donald J Trump) Vendetta Tour.”
Elsewhere, former Trump White House press secretary Sarah Sanders won the Republican governor’s nomination in Arkansas.
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