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December 22, 2021

A Republican Battle Royale in Georgia

Heritage grades the state’s election laws highly, but that hasn’t settled the GOP dispute.

One year ago, the State of Georgia had all political eyes on it as the 2020 campaign had received a runoff extension into the early days of 2021. It wasn’t just one runoff election that captured the nation’s attention, but two: Republican incumbent Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue were both forced into runoffs by not receiving 50% of the vote plus one in the November general election. And we all know how that turned out.

While the national media was watching the oscillation of the contest between Donald Trump and Joe Biden on November 3, 2020, Georgia observers were watching as incumbent Perdue led his race over second-place-finishing Democrat Jon Ossoff — in Perdue’s case, the interest was whether he would win outright with over 50%. In the end, Perdue missed out by 13,471 votes.

On the other hand, while Loeffler was second in her race — enough to make it into her own runoff against Raphael Warnock — her campaign to stay in the Senate was made more difficult by facing a significant Republican challenger in Representative Doug Collins, who left his House seat to make the run. It may not have changed the eventual outcome, but certainly a united GOP may have more easily carried Loeffler to victory and preserved a Republican majority.

Fast-forward to next year and we’re going to watch another Republican rumble in Georgia — leaving Democrats licking their chops at another potential pickup. Instead of trying to win back a Senate seat by taking on a vulnerable short-term incumbent in Warnock, who was elected to finish the term started by the late Johnny Isakson, Perdue — with Trump’s backing — has announced a primary challenge to incumbent Georgia Governor Brian Kemp.

Perdue recently joined in a lawsuit that the AP says alleges “that fraudulent or counterfeit ballots were counted in the state’s most populous county in the 2020 general election.” The former senator also stated that he would not have voted to accept Georgia’s Electoral College votes. In endorsing Perdue, Trump called Kemp “a very weak governor” who “has failed Georgia” thanks to, in Trump’s eyes, Kemp’s meek acceptance of questionable election results.

Trump muddied the Georgia waters in the interim between the November election and the January runoff by refusing to accept the results in November, calling into question election practices only in states he lost and depressing GOP turnout in the later Georgia races enough to put Warnock and Ossoff in office. Trump and Perdue don’t see it that way, of course, and they’re hoping Georgia Republicans don’t either.

But it’s also notable that National Review put out an article a week after first discussing the Perdue-Kemp race lauding Georgia for having “the most secure and trustworthy elections in the country,” according to an Election Integrity Scorecard put out by The Heritage Foundation.

In the study, Georgia led the nation with 83 points of a possible 100 (still only a solid B-), with the leading factors scored being voter ID implementation, accuracy of voter registration lists, and absentee ballot management. All these are based on the laws in effect in the state at the time of the study, and Georgia enacted additional reforms this spring that probably helped its score.

Of course, screaming “Jim Crow” and “voter suppression,” the Biden administration and its allies have taken to the courts to try to overturn the changes, with a Trump-appointed judge refusing to dismiss the suits.

Knowing this may be a draining primary campaign, the question will be what happens to the GOP winner, who is most likely headed for a matchup (or rematch) with 2018 candidate — and winner in her own mind — Stacey Abrams. You can say what you will about her policies, but there’s no denying she’s a dogged campaigner who registered and motivated enough Democrat voters in the time between the 2020 election and the runoffs to help shift the two Georgia Senate seats. She will be formidable, especially for a divided GOP.

One thing to keep in the back of our collective minds, though, is Heritage’s conclusion. “Even the best laws are not worth much if responsible officials do not enforce them rigorously,” the report says. “It is up to the citizens of each state to make sure that their elected and appointed public officials do just that.” The big disagreement between Trump, Purdue, and Kemp boils down to whether there was enough “rigorous” enforcement in Georgia last November as the ballots were collected and counted. It seems voters will have a chance to decide what they think about that.

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