KENNESAW, Ga. (AP) — Former Vice President Mike Pence made an in-person push for Gov. Brian Kemp's reelection a day before the Republican incumbent faces his biggest challenge from a GOP candidate backed by Pence's old boss.
Pence rallied with Kemp in suburban Atlanta on Monday evening, saying that “elections are about the future” and that “when you vote for Brian Kemp tomorrow, you will say yes to a future of freedom here in Georgia. You will say yes to our most cherished values at the heart of everything we hold dear."
Ex-President Donald Trump, meanwhile, held a telephone rally moments after Pence finished speaking to champion the candidacy of former U.S. Sen. David Perdue. Trump urged Perdue to enter the primary as retribution for Kemp not going along with Trump’s effort to overturn his loss to President Joe Biden in Georgia in 2020.
For Kemp, an outright win in Tuesday’s race would be vindication after months of attacks from Trump. However, as he has in recent weeks, he focused on the threat that Democrat Stacey Abrams could be elected in November.
Kemp and Pence took aim at Abrams' recent assertion that she is "tired of hearing about being the the best state in the country to do business when we are the worst state in the country to live," referring to Georgia's dismal ranking for mental health access and maternal mortality.
“That is why we’re in the fight for the soul of our state,” Kemp said. “We cannot take tomorrow for granted. We’re doing this for a reason. We got more wood to chop.”
Perdue also tried to draw attention to Abrams on Monday, but in a different way. In an interview with conservative radio host John Fredericks and former Trump adviser Peter Navarro, he said Abrams' remarks Saturday at a Democratic dinner were similar to her suggestion in 2018 that people shouldn't have to work in farming or hospitality to make a living.
“She is demeaning her own race when it comes to that,” Perdue said.
The interview came at the same restaurant in the Atlanta suburb of Dunwoody where Perdue sparred with reporters and questioned polls that showed him significantly behind Kemp. He said a Fox News poll showing him behind was “full of crap.” He also blasted a journalist who he said had reported that Trump was backing away from his campaign. And he repeated his claims of fraud in the last election. “If everybody votes tomorrow, we win this primary and we will go beat Stacey Abrams in the fall,” he said.
Perdue told reporters that he would accept the election results if there was no fraud. Then he said that he would support whoever the Republican nominee ends up being because the most important thing in the election is to defeat Abrams. Three other Republicans besides Perdue and Kemp are running for governor.
Moments after Pence left the stage, Trump started a phone call urging people to vote for Perdue, describing Perdue as “100% MAGA."
Trump tied Kemp to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and continued his baseless claims that the two oversaw a rigged and fraudulent presidential election in 2020. He called Kemp an “embarrassment to the Republican Party” and said he could not beat Stacey Abrams.
“David is the only candidate who can beat Stacey Abrams because I don’t believe Kemp can do it,” Trump said. “He’s got too many people in the Republican Party that will refuse to vote.”
Perdue has embraced Trump’s election lies, opening two debates between the candidates with the claim that the 2020 balloting was “rigged and stolen.” He also joined a lawsuit meant to force a physical examination of ballots in Atlanta’s Fulton County. State and federal officials, including Trump’s own attorney general, have said there was no evidence of widespread fraud.
More than 850,000 people already voted early, including more than 483,000 who chose a Republican ballot and almost 369,000 who chose a Democratic ballot. Turnout could exceed the 2018 primary.
Pence's latest political break with Trump captured attention on the final day of the campaign, although Pence never mentioned Trump's name and only indirectly alluded to his break with the president over Trump's effort to overturn the election.
“We’re not just fighting for Gov. Brian Kemp, not just fighting the conservative agenda here,” Pence said. “We’re fighting for our kids and our grandkids fighting for the America they deserve, an America grounded in freedom and in our highest ideals.”
Trump conducted a rally in Georgia in March for Perdue and other candidates and kicked in more than $3 million for ads attacking Kemp. But Perdue has had trouble raising money and gaining traction against Kemp, and the Republican Governors Association has outspent Trump with its own ads aiding Kemp.
Kemp, meanwhile, benefited from being able to hand out pay raises and tax cuts using overflowing state revenues. He announced two electric vehicle plants and was able to sign conservative-pleasing laws that put an end to permit requirements to carry a concealed handgun and that paved the way for transgender girls to be banned from playing high school sports.
Thanawala reported from Dunwoody, Georgia. Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.
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