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Kemp uses Georgia voting law to try to win back Trump and his base

Three years ago, Brian Kemp was elected governor when Republicans embraced his nearly ten-year quest to restrict access to the vote in Georgia. Now he has linked his re-election hopes to making voting in the state even more difficult. After infuriating former President Donald Trump by resisting his demands to overturn the state’s election results, Kemp has become an outcast in his own party. He has spent weeks fending off a daily barrage of attacks from right-wing media, fellow Republican lawmakers and party officials, and Trump has vowed to retaliate by sending an extreme right-wing loyalist to oppose him during primary next year. But the new radical voting bill signed by Kemp two weeks ago has provided a lifeline for the besieged governor to rebuild his position among the party base. The bill severely restricts the ability to vote in Georgia, especially for people of color. Kemp seized it as a political opportunity, defending the law as a law that expands access to the vote, condemning those who criticize it, and confusing criticism with the so-called cancellation culture. Sign up for the New York Times newsletter The Morning It’s an argument he says could do him good favor with Georgia Republicans after being publicly ridiculed by Trump, a situation that proved fatal to aspirations careers of other ambitious curators. Since the bill was signed on March 25, Kemp has conducted around 50 interviews, 14 with Fox News, promoting the new restrictions with a message that matches Trump’s baseless claims that the election was rigged against him. . “He knows it’s a real opportunity and he can’t waste it because I don’t think he’s getting another layup like this anytime soon,” said Randy Evans, a lawyer. Georgian Trump appointed ambassador to Luxembourg. also a close ally of Kemp. A political reversal of fortune would represent an unlikely turnaround for Kemp, making him the most prominent Republican to find a way to overcome Trump’s retaliatory campaign, and perhaps provide an early test of the former’s ability. president to impose his will on the electoral future of the party. . Kemp’s argument is designed to pump adrenaline through the conservative vein, focusing on two of the hottest topics on the political right: electoral mechanics and a disturbing representation of the Democratic left. “They have bowed like a damp rag to the cancellation culture,” he said, responding to companies that have publicly opposed the legislation, in an interview with Fox Business on Tuesday. “He woke up in real life, and Americans and Georgians should be afraid. I mean, what event are they going to come next? How much value do you have – the way you live your life – do they come next? Will they go after your small business? Kemp declined an interview request. It’s unclear if Kemp will be able to make amends with Trump. Late Tuesday, the former president signaled how difficult it would be to convince him, issuing a statement criticizing Republicans in Kemp and Georgia for not going far enough to restrict voting access in the new law. “Kemp also caved in to the waking radical left crowd who threatened to call him a racist if he got rid of the weekend vote,” Trump said. “Well he kept it, and they still call him racist!” If Trump’s animosity persists, he has the potential to complicate Kemp’s re-election effort by endorsing a rival and attacking the governor. Some of Kemp’s political allies are trying to negotiate a truce. Evans, for example, is in South Florida this week with the aim of engaging in a delicate round of diplomacy that would see Trump team up with Kemp. He said he spoke to Kemp on a daily basis but was not particularly optimistic. “There are times,” Evans said, “when the hatred is so deep and ingrained that there is nothing, and that’s when you just have to get a divorce. There is no gift, no diamond, no car, no flowers, nothing that can ever fix it. Despite Trump’s tough stance, many conservatives in the state remain fixated on the losses of Trump and the state’s two Republican senators, and are happy to see Kemp finally join their fight, however opportunistic it may sound. “I haven’t seen our party in Georgia as united for five and a half years,” said Chip Lake, a longtime Republican strategist in the state. “It allowed people angry with Brian Kemp not to do enough to get Donald Trump back on board with Brian Kemp.” Not all Republicans signed. Debbie Dooley, a conservative activist in Georgia, said the Republican base remembered Kemp refused Trump’s request to call a special session to deal with the presidential election results, and remained keen to punish him for which she considers to be not fully investigating the fraud allegations. “He hopes Trump voters forget that he was a coward,” she said. “He undermined us at every turn in the electoral fraud investigation, and now because he speaks harshly about MLB, Delta and Coke, he thinks we’ll forgive him. We won’t. The most recent poll, conducted before Kemp signed the voting bill, showed 15% to 30% of Republicans in Georgia disapproved of his tenure as governor, largely because of his performance in the 2020 election. The new law that Kemp is defending makes it more difficult to acquire a postal ballot, creates new restrictions and complications for voting, and gives Republican lawmakers new power over the electoral process. It drew fierce criticism from local businesses like Coca-Cola and Delta, and prompted Major League Baseball to move its All-Star Game out of suburban Atlanta in protest. Kemp used the rebuke to set the Republican base on fire. He has made little effort to calm tensions with some of his state’s most important business leaders, and said baseball executives have “given in to fear, political expediency and liberal lies” by deciding to relocate the All-Star Game. Through it all, he has positioned himself as a fierce defender of Georgian sovereignty, saying, “Georgians will not be intimidated.” Kemp’s passage of the electoral law appears to have contributed to his standing among Republicans in Georgia. Former Rep. Doug Collins, Trump’s preferred intra-party rival for governor, is now instead leaning towards a Senate candidacy for 2022, according to state strategists and activists. The two remaining Republicans considering an offer are not as well known and would face a more difficult time mounting a serious challenge to Kemp, who has already racked up more than $ 6.3 million for his re-election campaign. He is now raising money on the ballot bill, wrapping his re-election website in a fundraiser to help “defend electoral integrity.” “Campaigners in my own riding who were ready to find someone for the primary say maybe he deserves another chance,” said Jason Shepherd, Chairman of the Cobb County Republican Party, who is running for the head of the party. “It will make people less inclined to enter the race.” The other two lawmakers mulling over the primary offers are Vernon Jones, the former Democratic state lawmaker turned Republican in January, and Burt Jones, a state senator. Both say they are assessing the political landscape and expect to make a decision soon. The two took different approaches to Kemp, pointing out how quickly politics changed for the governor. In an email, Vernon Jones said Kemp’s call to the base was “too little, too late”, portraying him as taking advantage of a cause he overlooked in November. “Gov. Kemp rested and allowed the legislature to enter and craft the new bill, then in an effort to mislead the public, he chose himself as the poster for electoral reform in Georgia “, did he declare. Still, Burt Jones praised Kemp’s handling of the moment, admitting that “what happened last week didn’t hurt him in his base.” Each week, when potential challengers deliberate on whether to participate in the race, Kemp has more time to make his case to grassroots conservatives. “You can’t beat someone with no one,” said Lake, the Republican strategist. “As the days go by, you move further and further away from Donald Trump’s presidency and Brian Kemp gets stronger with the grassroots.” In many ways, Kemp’s passage of the legislation signifies a return to the conservative language – and voting issues – that defined his political career. Presenting himself as a “politically incorrect conservative,” Kemp has long been one of the left’s most persistent villains due to his defeat of Stacey Abrams, who was in contention in 2018 to become the country’s first black female governor. Kemp, then secretary of state overseeing elections in Georgia, blocked 53,000 voter registrations, which were disproportionately drawn from black voters. Abrams and his allies have argued that Kemp used his position to stage a “stolen” election, a charge he denied. Since then, the two have spent years engaging in a controversy over voting rights, an issue that rallies the bases of their parties in the state. In an interview with a sports radio show this week, Kemp accused Abrams of running “the biggest racket in America right now” with his voter suppression allegations. Democrats say his staunch support for the law and the attacks on Abrams are a cynical effort to bolster his position among his conservative base while suppressing votes from his opponents in the general election. “This is all politics,” said Representative Nikema Williams, the state Democratic Party chairperson, who replaced civil rights icon John Lewis in Congress. “Let us also be clear that part of this policy is to keep blacks and Maroons away from the polls so that he can continue to win elections in Georgia.” This article originally appeared in The New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company

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