May 13

By Susan Milligan

In a bold rebuke of his former White House partner, Mike Pence will headline an election-eve rally for Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, the man former President Donald Trump has targeted for defeat after the governor’s refusal to help Trump overturn the 2020 election results there.

Calling Kemp “one of the most successful conservative governors in America,” the former vice president and potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate said he would appear at a get-out-the-vote rally for Kemp on May 23.

“Brian Kemp is my friend, a man dedicated to faith, family and the people of Georgia,” Pence said in a statement. “I am proud to offer my full support for four more years of Brian Kemp as governor of the great state of Georgia.”

Pence’s announcement is the political equivalent of a raised middle finger to his former boss Trump, who remains both a source of discord and a powerful fundraising and galvanizing force inside his Republican Party.

Some prominent Republicans have endorsed candidates opposed by Trump. But Pence’s public appearance with Kemp sends a signal that the former vice president rejects a central theme of Trump’s political argument – that he was robbed of reelection because of voter fraud.

Still infuriated over his 2020 loss to President Joe Biden, Trump has used his endorsements to reward loyalists in GOP primaries and punish those who defied him as he sought to undo legitimate election results in key battlegrounds.

In Georgia, Trump has endorsed, and actively campaigned for, Kemp’s primary foe, former Sen. David Perdue. Kemp is well ahead in public polling. The former president has also endorsed challengers to Kemp allies down-ballot in Georgia.

His record so far is mixed: His favored candidate for the U.S. Senate in Ohio, J.D. Vance, won the Buckeye State’s GOP primary earlier this week, but his preferred contender in the Republican gubernatorial, primary – a man accused of sexually harassing and groping multiple women – lost to a candidate backed by the GOP establishment there.

But Kemp is arguably Trump’s biggest target in the Republican primaries this year. Georgia went blue in the presidential race for the first time since 1992, and Trump needled Kemp to find a way to reverse those results to give the former president Georgia’s 16 Electoral College votes.

Trump asked Kemp to call a special session of the state legislature to appoint a new slate of electors – a request Kemp refused. Kemp has also said repeatedly that while he himself cast a ballot for Trump, Georgia’s elections were fair and without the widespread fraud Trump and his allies have alleged.

Kemp is well ahead in primary polls, leading Perdue by an average 22.3 percentage points in a five-way primary. But if Kemp (who now has an average 54.3% support among Republican primary voters) does not get more than 50% of the vote May 24, he will head to a runoff June 21 against the next highest vote-getter.

Trump issued an angry statement on Wednesday blasting Republicans who backed Kemp.

“Today, the worst ‘election Governor’ in the country, Brian Kemp, loaded the great state of Georgia with RINOs,” Trump said, using the derisive acronym for “Republican in Name Only.”

“That’s right, he had them all. Chris Christie, Doug Ducey from Arizona, and Pete Ricketts from Nebraska. That tells you all you need to know about what you are getting in Georgia just a continuation of bad elections and a real RINO if you vote for Brian Kemp.”