Deep South Primaries a Test of Conservative Credibility

May 21, 2022 by Dan McCue
Deep South Primaries a Test of Conservative Credibility
Former White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders greets supporters at an event for her campaign for governor at a Colton's Steak House in Cabot, Ark., Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo)

WASHINGTON — If any common themes are emerging from the primaries being held on Tuesday in Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas, it is that the voters in each state appear to be highly motivated and they’re looking for candidates — in the Republican column, at least — to prove their conservative credibility.

In Georgia, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has already declared that early voting this year drew record-breaking numbers. As of Wednesday night, he said more than 565,000 Georgians had voted early — a 153% increase from the 2018 midterm election and a staggering 189% from the primary in 2020.

“It’s fantastic,” Raffensperger told reporters this week. 

“What it shows is that it’s never been easier to vote in Georgia, but we have the appropriate guardrails, securities in place,” he added, referring to the state’s controversial new voting laws, which many saw as restricting the ability to vote in the state.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill is also predicting a heavier than usual voter turnout on Tuesday, placing the number of registered voters who will turn out to cast a ballot at between 28% and 32%.

By comparison, only 25.6% of registered voters in the state turned out to vote in the 2018 midterm, and the number was even lower, 21.6%, in 2014.

“I think it will be a little bit higher because you’ve got a governor’s race that’s attracted a lot of candidates who are spending a lot of money,” Merrill explained last week. 

“And then you’ve got an open U.S. Senate seat that’s breaking every record in the history of the state for the amount of money that’s been spent in a primary,” he said.

Election officials in Arkansas are reporting similar phenomena.

Aside from voter enthusiasm, the pattern that appears to be setting up for Tuesday’s vote is support for incumbent governors and a desire among Republican voters to elect a “true” conservative — in most cases meaning more conservative than the representative they have now.

At the moment, Georgia’s incumbent Republican governor Brian Kemp appears poised to cruise to an easy victory over former Sen. David Perdue.

The most recent polls, published Wednesday, showed Kemp with a commanding 30-to-32 point lead.

Particularly telling was a Fox News poll that found 60% of Georgia primary voters prefer Kemp, compared to just 28% who said they prefer Perdue, who also happens to have the endorsement of former President Donald Trump.

Trump has borne a grudge against Kemp — and Secretary of State Raffensperger — ever since they both refused to intervene and overturn the state’s election results in 2020.

A full hand recount of the state’s 5 million presidential votes resulted in a narrowing of Biden’s lead over President Trump in Georgia, but not nearly enough to change the result. 

He started out with a 14,000-vote lead, and led by just over 12,000 votes when the Associated Press called the race.

Trump’s mojo hasn’t returned to the state since. Such is the diminished value of his endorsement in the gubernatorial race that former Vice President Mike Pence has agreed to hold a rally with Kemp on primary eve.

And political prognosticators in the state believe he’ll come away with more than 50% on primary night, meaning he’ll avoid a runoff election if they prove correct.

Now matter who wins the race Tuesday night, the one certainty is that whoever wins will have to face Democrat Stacey Abrams in November.

Trump will likely fare better in Georgia’s Republican primary for Senate, where his endorsee Herschel Walker will vie against six much lesser known appointments including Gary Black, Kelvin King, Latham Saddler, Josh Clark and Jonathan McColumn.

The way things stand now, voters will have a choice between Walker and Sen. Raphael Warnock, the incumbent Democrat, in the fall.

Perhaps the biggest question of all Tuesday night will revolve around Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene in Georgia’s 14th Congressional District.

Greene, a firebrand, beat back an attempt to toss her off the ballot due to her alleged role in the Jan. 6, 2021, siege at the U.S. Capitol, but the episode seemed to bring her back down to Earth.

And calls for her ouster grew this past week after another controversial figure in the House, Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., lost his bid for reelection.

The conservative National Review even went so far this week as encouraging Georgia voters to split their ticket.

“Georgia voters going to the primary polls on Tuesday have some serious choices to make,” the magazine’s editorial board wrote. “They should renominate Brian Kemp for a second term as governor. But they should reject freshman congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene and nominate Jennifer Strahan in the 14th Congressional District. 

“Kemp represents sober, principled conservative governance and public service; Greene represents its opposite,” the board said.

The magazine then went on to detail the many missteps that make her anathema to some Republican voters.

“She made headlines during her 2020 campaign over her prior musings on QAnon, the ‘so-called plane that crashed into the Pentagon’ on 9/11, and the Parkland shooting as a false-flag operation. 

“In an incoherent and now-infamous Facebook post, she imagined an elaborate conspiracy connecting wildfires in California to Rothschild Inc. and then to space solar generators she likened to a ‘laser beam or light beam coming down to Earth,’” the editorial board continued.

It also noted that she has not mended her ways after becoming embroiled in controversies.

It points to her claiming that Jan. 6 was an “inside job” and a “Fed-surrection,” and telling Lou Dobbs that joining the U.S. military was “like throwing your life away.” 

“She spoke at the America First Political Action Conference, a White-nationalist gathering organized by a Holocaust denier. Of course, she promoted theories that the 2020 election was stolen,” the board continued.

“These would be disqualifying ugly baggage even for a member of Congress who was otherwise busy and effective. For Greene, who serves on no committees, does no apparent legislative work, and rarely appears in a district she moved into in order to run for office, they are her accomplishments,” the editorial board concluded. 

“A fixture in the national headlines, she has drawn fire locally for her lack of constituent service. Greene’s district is too red for her to face a real Democratic challenger. Fortunately, Greene has a conservative primary opponent — Jennifer Strahan, a health care industry entrepreneur who pledges to focus on serving the district rather than courting controversy for its own sake. The district’s voters should choose Strahan,” the board advised.

Ivey Looks to Run the Table in Alabama

A total of eight Republican challengers are running to unseat incumbent Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey in the state’s GOP primary next week, and few if any of the state’s most seasoned election watchers believe she’ll walk away with anything less than 50% of the vote.

Meanwhile six Democrats are vying for the chance to meet her in the Nov. 8 general election.

Ivey, a former lieutenant governor and state treasurer, has based her campaign on “standing up for the little guy, and fighting for the forgotten.”

“It’s what I’ve done all my life, and that’s not changing now,” she says on her campaign website.

She’s also taken a hard Trumpian line, continuing to maintain the 2020 election was stolen from the former president and that President Joe Biden is the cause of all that ills Alabama, from illegal immigration to high gas prices.

As hard as it might be to conceive of a candidate out-Trumping Ivey, Lindy Blanchard, a businesswoman and former U.S. Ambassador to Slovenia from 2019 until 2021, is trying.

In one recent advertisement, she went so far as to call Ivey a “tax-hiking Fauci-loving” liberal.

Among the other Republican candidates seeking to reach the hard-right of the electorate are Dean Odle, who has been lambasting “fake Republicans” on the campaign trail, and Dean Young, who says he wants to bring faith back into government.

Three other candidates fall closer to what was once the GOP mainstream.

These are Stacy George, a former county commissioner, Dave Thomas, a former state legislator, and Lew Burdette, a businessman whose namesake company specializes in infrastructure projects.

The final Republican on the primary ballot is Donald Trent, a yoga instructor running on a platform of “Make Alabama Grateful Again.”

Of the six Democratic gubernatorial candidates, State Sen. Malika Sanders-Fortier is the only one with prior political experience.

The other Democrats on the ballot are Yolanda Rochelle Flowers, a speech therapist; Patricia Salter Jamieson, a health care worker; Arthur Kennedy, an educator; Chad Martin, a mobile home salesman; and Doug Smith, a businessman.

If no candidate wins the majority, a runoff election will be held June 21 between the top two vote-getters.

The most compelling race in the state is the Republican primary for the Senate, where Katie Britt, an attorney and businesswoman who served as president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama, has been leading in the polls for weeks over opponents Mike Durant, a businessman and highly decorated U.S. Army veteran, and U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks.

The latest Emerson College poll, released Wednesday, showed a significant tightening of the race, with Britt receiving 32% support in the poll, followed by Durant with 26.4% and Brooks at 25.1%. 

Undecided voters made up 14% of the poll’s sample pool. 

The poll, conducted last Sunday and Monday, had a margin of error of 3.6% and sampled 706 likely voters in the Republican primary. It was commissioned by Nexstar media outlets in Alabama and The Hill in Washington.

Also factoring in the contest are two lesser known candidates. Lillie Boddie received the support of 2% of participants in the Emerson College poll, and Karla DuPriest garnered 1%.

If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, the top two vote-getters will advance to the June 21 runoff.

Huckabee Looks to Finish Strong in Arkansas

If all goes as expected in Arkansas, former White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders looks to win the state’s Republican gubernatorial primary in a walk.

A recent poll by the state’s Talk Business and Politics website had Sanders garnering support from 72% of poll participants, while challenger Doc Washburn, a radio show host, came in with only 16.5%.

Five candidates are on the Democratic primary ticket. Former state House Rep. Jay Martin is the best known, and he’s running with economic development and mental health as his top issues.

The other candidates are James Russell, a health care professional; Chris Jones, who Ballotpedia describes as “a physicist, minister and a nonprofit leader;” Anthony Bland, a businessman and educator; and Supha Xayprasith-Mays is a former Walmart executive. 

Meanwhile, four candidates — Jake Bequette, Heath Loftis, Jan Morgan, and incumbent John Boozman — are running in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in Arkansas. 

Boozman, a former optometrist, was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010. 

He has the endorsements of former President Trump, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and he’s running hard on Trump’s legacy, including getting three conservative justices confirmed to the Supreme Court.

Bequette is a U.S. Army veteran and a former football player who played for both the Arkansas Razorbacks and the New England Patriots. He is running as a political outsider, but may lose some traction in the race due to the fact he was endorsed by Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C.

Morgan is a former journalist who now owns a firearms training facility in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Like Boozman, she’s also banking on a little Trump shine. Among her endorsers is Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and @DanMcCue

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