(CNN)Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp will defeat Donald Trump-backed challenger, former Sen. David Perdue, CNN projects — a blow to the former President’s efforts to punish Kemp for refusing to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.
He’ll face Democrat Stacey Abrams, who ran unopposed in Tuesday’s primary, in a rematch of their 2018 race, which Abrams narrowly lost.
As election deniers backed by Trump vie for key posts in the Peach State — one of five states holding primaries Tuesday — the results are offering clues about the willingness of Republican voters to spurn the former President’s vanity campaigns and move on from his lies about the 2020 election.
Georgia voters will also decide whether to replace GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who, like Kemp rebuffed Trump’s election entreaties, with a Trump-backed candidate in Rep. Jody Hice, who continues to falsely claim that Trump would have won Georgia if the election had been “fair.”
Candidates must receive more than 50% of the vote to avoid a runoff.
Kemp made no explicit mention of Trump in his victory speech Tuesday night.
“Even in the middle of a tough primary, conservatives across our state didn’t listen to the noise,” the governor said to a few hundred supporters at the College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta. “They didn’t get distracted; they knew our record of fighting and winning for hard-working Georgians.”
Kemp thanked Perdue, whom Trump had recruited to run against him, for a gracious concession call and his pledge to work together to keep the governor’s office in Republican hands. He devoted the majority of his victory speech to assailing Abrams.
“Tonight, the fight for the soul of our state is to make sure that Stacey Abrams will not be our next governor or next President,” Kemp said.
Kemp may have charted a new GOP playbook for candidates burdened by Trump’s grievances. He kept Republican voters focused on the conservative policies he has championed: from his early re-opening of Georgia in the midst of the pandemic, to the law he signed restricting mail-in voting, to his backing of a law allowing most Georgians to carry a concealed firearm without a license.
A cavalcade of high-profile current and former GOP governors, including Chris Christie of New Jersey and Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, vouched for Kemp on the stump. And in that proxy war between Trump and the Republican establishment, former Vice President Mike Pence told Georgians on Monday night that a vote for Kemp would “send a deafening message all across America that the Republican Party is the party of the future.”
Former Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a Republican, said the results of the gubernatorial primary show that Republican voters appreciate Kemp’s accomplishments in his first term and demonstrate the limits of Trump’s influence.
“Georgia Republicans have spoken about how they feel about Trump,” said Chambliss, who served two terms in the Senate.
It has been more challenging for Raffensperger to disentangle himself from Trump’s obsession with the 2020 election given the infamous call where the former President demanded that the Republican secretary of state “find” enough votes for him to win the state, which is still very much in the news as part of the ongoing Fulton County special grand jury investigation of Trump’s election interference.
The Trump-backed candidate in the Republican primary for Georgia attorney general, John Gordon, will lose to incumbent Chris Carr, CNN projects.
The Republican Senate primary offered less drama since Trump and the GOP establishment long ago united behind former football star Herschel Walker, who easily won the nomination Tuesday night, CNN projected. As Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock runs for a full six-year term, Republicans are eying Georgia’s Senate seat as a key pickup in their quest to win control of the Senate.
In the first House primary between two Democratic incumbents, Rep. Lucy McBath will defeat Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, CNN projects. McBath, a gun control advocate who flipped the current 6th District in 2018, decided to run in the 7th District after the GOP-controlled legislature redrew her district to be more safely red.
In another race that could underscore the limits of Trump’s influence, Rep. Mo Brooks is back in contention for a potential runoff in the Republican Senate primary in Alabama, several months after Trump rescinded his endorsement of the congressman.
Brooks is running for the seat being vacated by retiring GOP Sen. Richard Shelby, facing Army veteran Mike Durant and Katie Britt, a former aide to Shelby. The race will proceed to a runoff if no candidate wins more than 50% in the primary.
Though Brooks was once one of Trump’s strongest defenders and voted against certifying the 2020 election results, the former President said he was pulling his endorsement in March because Brooks had urged voters to put them 2020 election behind them.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s former White House press secretary, will win the GOP nomination for governor of Arkansas, CNN projects.
She’s well positioned to carry the state, which Trump won by nearly 28 points, in November.
A win in the general election would be a homecoming for Sanders, whose father Mike Huckabee spent more than 10 years in that role from 1996 to 2007.
Texas and Minnesota
Texas voters cast their ballots in runoff elections on Tuesday amid news of a shooting at an elementary school. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said 14 students and one teacher were killed.
In one of the more notable contests in the state, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who filed a failed lawsuit to overturn the 2020 presidential results, will win the Republican primary runoff, CNN projects. He was facing a challenge from Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and grandson of former President George H.W. Bush. Bush had argued that Paxton’s extensive legal troubles could complicate the GOP’s ability to hold the seat in November. Paxton had led the field in Texas’ March primary but hadn’t cleared the threshold to avoid a runoff.
The most closely watched contest on the Democratic side is the runoff between moderate Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, the only Democratic congressman who votes against abortion rights in the House, and his progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros in Texas’ 28th Congressional District.
The debate over reproductive rights has intensified in that race since Politico published a draft majority opinion from the Supreme Court that suggested the court is poised to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing the right to an abortion.
Minnesota is holding a special election in the 1st Congressional District, which has been vacant since Rep. Jim Hagedorn died in February. His widow, Jennifer Carnahan, is one of the Republican candidates attempting to replace him.
This story has been updated with additional developments.
Jeff Zeleny and Mike Warren contributed to this report.