Brian Kemp finally hugs Georgia election denier Herschel Walker

Photo illustration by Kelly Caminero/The Daily Beast/Getty

Photo illustration by Kelly Caminero/The Daily Beast/Getty

At a rally in the Atlanta suburbs last Saturday, Gov. Brian Kemp did something he’d never done before this election season: he took the stage with Herschel Walker.

“Look, we can’t rest on our laurels here,” the newly re-elected governor told a crowd in Cobb County. “Who do you want to fight for in the United States Senate? Do you want a guy who represents our values ​​like Herschel Walker, or do you want a guy who stands behind Joe Biden 96 percent of the time?”

In most states, it would be unobtrusive to see the Republican gubernatorial campaign featuring the Republican Senate nominee. But ahead of the November election, Kemp and Walker shared the top spot in Georgia’s statewide GOP ticket — and virtually nothing else.

No-drama Kemp cruised for re-election after defying relentless calls from Donald Trump and his supporters to accept 2020 voter fraud claims. Walker, Trump’s handpicked candidate to take on Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), ran a MAGA-powered campaign that was consumed by scandal after coverage from The Daily Beast and other outlets revealed that his personal Behavior contradicted his public positions on “family values.”

Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker are going to runoff in December’s Georgia election

The distance between the two candidates — organizationally, politically, and personally — only deepened as Walker’s controversies grew. In the final months of the election, Kemp declined to explicitly endorse Walker, simply saying he was working to ensure GOP wins “up and down.”

But now that the Senate contest is in a runoff, Kemp is all in. And his support for Walker is remarkable for one simple reason: Walker is a resister.

While it’s far from Walker’s most heated controversy, the Georgia football legend has been a prolific promoter of choice conspiracy theories after the 2020 election – and directly criticized Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on several occasions.

“Why does @BrianKempGA refuse to ensure voter signature verification was enforced?” Walker tweeted on December 18, 2020 in an equally critical quote tweet by then-President Donald Trump. “Shows that something is afoot.”

Walker has repeatedly retweeted false claims of voter fraud from figures such as notorious “Kraken” attorney Sidney Powell and QAnon-believing election conspiracy theorist Lin Wood. On his Twitter account, Wood issued outlandish claims that Trump actually won 70 percent of the vote and wildly accused Kemp and other GOP officials of complicity in a massive cover-up by Chinese intelligence and communist actors to win Trump’s election steal.

Up until the 2021 runoff in January, when Wood was even marginalized in Trumpworld, Walker tweeted that Wood’s tweets were “eye-opening” and called for a “total purge” of the country. (Later, in March, Walker and Wood would have dinner in Washington.)

That rhetoric was a key factor behind former Senator David Perdue’s primary challenge to Kemp, which had Trump’s full support. But his attempt to get Georgia Republicans to throw out a popular governor solely on the basis of 2020 fraud conspiracies failed embarrassingly.

While Kemp resisted these conspiracies and schemes, he was careful never to push Trump back outright. In fact, one of Kemp’s first steps after the 2020 election was to get an electoral reform bill through the legislature that was widely viewed as a response to allegations of fraud. While Kemp will not adopt the rhetoric himself, he has welcomed the people who use the rhetoric; his next lieutenant governor will be someone who was a wrong voter in 2020.

When the votes were tallied after the November 8 general election, Kemp again won in a convincing manner, defeating Stacey Abrams by over 7 points. Meanwhile, Walker went to a runoff contest on December 6 with Warnock. Winning over just a few of the roughly 203,000 people who voted for Kemp – but not him – will be crucial for Walker to prevail.

With his own re-election secured, Kemp can spend his political capital to bolster scandal-tainted Walker. But the emergence of the governor as a key player in the Georgia Senate race comes at a turbulent moment for the Republican Party — one that is exposing the rifts that helped separate Kemp and Walker in the first place.

Since Election Day, the defeat of Trump-backed MAGA supporters in key elections has sparked a violent GOP backlash against the former president and his ongoing fixation on the 2020 election. Last Tuesday, amid widespread criticism from former loyal Republicans, Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign at his Mar-A-Lago club.

Republicans hoped Trump would delay his campaign start until after the Georgia runoff, fearing that his close ties to Walker — and the threat that Trump would flex his muscles by campaigning for him in Georgia — could alienate voters , whose support Walker desperately needs.

Many in the GOP remain traumatized by Trump’s involvement in the 2020 state Senate election, which Republicans lost after he made the state a flashpoint for his electoral grievances.

Some in Georgia see Kemp’s long-awaited intervention for Walker as an attempt to trick Trump. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who is banking on a win to break into the Democratic majority, was leaning on Kemp to lend his personal endorsement and organizational power to Walker, Politico reported.

‘Pro-Life’ Herschel Walker paid for a friend’s abortion

“Obviously, Leader McConnell wanted Brian’s team in there fast, so Donald Trump has no way of getting involved,” said Baoky Vu, a longtime Republican official in DeKalb County who was among the Georgia voters who split their ticket between Kemp and Warnock.

“The worst fear would be that Donald Trump would announce a presidential candidacy and then try to campaign for Walker – that would literally guarantee defeat,” Vu said.

But Trump’s return and recent voters’ rejection of his political brand reinforces this central irony underlying Kemp’s campaign to rescue election denier Walker.

The Walker campaign did not respond to questions from The Daily Beast on whether he stood by his tweets casting doubt on Kemp and his handling of the 2020 election or whether he had any comment on Lin Wood’s calls for the governor’s imprisonment.

In response to questions about Walker’s past comments, Kemp spokesman Tate Mitchell referred The Daily Beast to the governor’s comments at his pro-Walker rally, in which he gave general praise for “my friend Herschel Walker.” Remarkably, Walker remained neutral in Kemp’s primary against Perdue.

The governor is able to be a kingmaker as the runoff between Warnock and Walker is considered a dead heat. In addition to campaigning for Walker, Kemp offered to donate much of his considerable organizational strength and fund of campaign data to McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund, the Super PAC that was Walker’s biggest booster.

How the Senate GOP’s infighting could hurt Herschel Walker

“Herschel, his campaign, never really developed that grassroots organization… We saw the results of that on Election Day,” said Jason Shepherd, a longtime Georgia GOP activist. “If Herschel had had the ground game like Brian Kemp, he might have crossed the finish line. Now Kemp gives him his base game.”

Two weeks before the Dec. 6 runoff, it’s unclear if Kemp will personally campaign for Walker again. Even a campaign ad featuring the popular governor would be happily welcomed by Walker’s allies.

But whether Kemp’s appeal to independents can ultimately translate to Walker – who lacked that appeal, as the election results clearly showed – is a more difficult question.

“Suburb voters are smart enough that they won’t switch to Herschel Walker just because Brian Kemp says so,” said Vu, the Republican voting for Kemp-Warnock. “The question is, will they stay home or will they vote for Warnock?”

On Saturday, just before Kemp rallied for Walker, the Georgia Democrats held a press conference with a duo of Republicans splitting their tickets between Kemp and Warnock. At one point, a member of the press asked Blake Briese of Atlanta what he thought of Kemp supporting Walker.

“He’s a Republican and that’s his job,” Briese said. “It’s a bit disappointing, but I’m not surprised.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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