Top Georgia GOP candidates woo party faithful with culture war visions

By: - January 25, 2022 1:00 am

Gov. Brian Kemp made his case for re-election at the annual Faith and Freedom Coalition Luncheon in Atlanta, as did fellow Republican David Perdue, who is gunning for Kemp’s job. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

Republican candidates for Georgia’s highest offices made their cases in front of some of the party’s most dedicated voters Monday at the Georgia Faith and Freedom Legislative Luncheon in Atlanta.

“We believe that this is the year that people in right standing with the Lord are going to be ascending into positions, across the country, at the federal level and state levels across the country,” said Timothy Head, executive director for the conservative Christian political group. “But it still is ours to march and actually put the shoe leather behind what it takes to actually make these things happen. You are the secret to that equation.”

It was a friendly crowd for the Republican candidates, even those who are competing against one another. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who did not speak at the event, attracted countless fans looking for a handshake and a selfie with the firebrand conservative.

Speaking with the Recorder after the event, Greene said the candidates’ speeches left her excited for the future of the state Republican party.

“I was really happy to hear the celebration for Georgia’s heartbeat bill,” she said. “I was very excited to hear Gov. Kemp say that he expects to sign constitutional carry into law this year. That was a big issue for me, and especially for people in my district and all over Georgia. I’m very happy to hear about fighting for our economy and keeping biological males out of women’s sports and bathrooms. That’s a big one, also stopping (critical race theory).”

Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene chats with supporters at the Georgia Faith and Freedom Coalition Luncheon. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

The event, which was held indoors with few wearing a mask, included at least one attendee with COVID-19. Former Sen. David Perdue’s gubernatorial campaign announced hours after the event that he had tested positive.

“He is vaccinated and boosted. Perdue doesn’t have a fever and isn’t experiencing symptoms at this time,” his campaign said in a statement. “He will be quarantining and following the updated guidance from the CDC, and he looks forward to being back out on the campaign trail as soon as possible.”

Though the candidates did not directly debate one another, they shared the same stage at a packed house at the Georgia Railroad Freight Depot to make their cases that they possess the strongest conservative bona fides.

Governor

Gov. Brian Kemp has the advantage of incumbency heading into the election, but Perdue has his eyes on the governor’s mansion as well. Former President Donald Trump, once one of Kemp’s greatest political assets, is supporting Perdue and blaming Kemp for his 2020 re-election loss in Georgia. Former Democratic state Rep. Vernon Jones, now a dyed-in-the-wool MAGA man, is also in the mix, working to drum up support for his longshot run. Whoever wins will likely face Democrat Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost her bid for governor in 2018.

Gov. Brian Kemp. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

On Monday, Kemp hit on many of the same points as he did in his State of the State address two weeks ago, outlining his accomplishments over the last four years and pledging to keep working on behalf of conservative causes.

“We have the strongest pro-life law in the country, the nation’s top election integrity law, and I also believe that I’ll have an opportunity to sign constitutional carry at the end of this legislative session,” he said.

Kemp also said he looks forward to signing bills to ban so-called critical race theory from classrooms, to require school systems to develop plans for parental participation, to prevent access to obscene materials on school networks and in school libraries and to bar transgender girls from playing girls’ sports.

“With three daughters who all played sports and middle and high school, (First Lady Marty Kemp) and I want to protect the same equal opportunity for success that our girls have had for all Georgia students,” he said. “I believe that this legislative session will be a historic one for parents, students and hard-working educators.”

Perdue urged the audience to look at the national picture, proudly touting his Trump endorsement.

“This race for governor is going to be a national race,” he said. “We know what that feels like after last year. And I can tell you there’s a reason why. If we want a Republican in the White House in ‘24 and we want the Senate majority back in ‘22, we have to win the Senate in Georgia, but we cannot lose this governor’s race.”

David Perdue. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

Perdue echoed Kemp’s call for more parental involvement in schools, and he pledged to do away with the state income tax and create an election law enforcement division within the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. He accused Senate Democrats of attempting to abolish the filibuster so they could pack the Supreme Court and add Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. as states, cementing single party control.

“This is bigger than me, it’s bigger than our governor, it’s bigger than Stacey Abrams,” he said. “It really is about the future of our state and our country. It’s about putting people in front of politicians. It’s about saving our republic and defending our freedoms, and most of all, to be absolutely sure, it’s about making sure Stacey Abrams is never the governor of Georgia.”

Perdue has hammered Kemp in campaign ads, blaming the governor for his 2020 loss to Sen. Jon Ossoff because of unspecified electoral interference, but on Monday, Perdue pledged to extend the olive branch should Kemp be victorious in the GOP primary.

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“If Brian wins this election, I promise you he will not have a stronger supporter than me come June, because I know what’s at stake here in November,” he said. “Stacey is not what we want in Georgia. But I have a bold vision. We don’t talk about that much. It’s not about the past, it’s about the future.”

Sen. Burt Jones said he is the strongest fighter in the race and promised to stand up against critical race theory and accommodations for transgender children.

“I’m the only one that can defeat Stacey Abrams,” said Jones, who is Black. “The left has gone crazy, they’re pulling the hair of their heads because they know they can’t play that card with me, whether it’s the ace of hearts or the ace of spades.”

Lieutenant Governor

Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan is not seeking reelection, and two Republican senators are leading the pack to replace him as leader of the state senate — Senate Pro Tempore Butch Miller of Gainesville and Jones of Jackson, who is running with Trump’s endorsement in his pocket. Also on the ticket will be activist and businesswoman Jeanne Seaver.

The winner of the primary will face off against one of a pack of potential Democratic candidates including attorney Charlie Bailey and state Rep. Erick Allen of Smyrna.

Sen. Butch Miller. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

The two senators in the race painted a dark picture of life in Joe Biden’s America and said they were strong men of faith who will stand against the tide of “wokeness.”

“I’m running for lieutenant governor because Joe Biden’s America scares the pants off me,” Miller said. “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re at a crossroads. We’re at a crossroads in our country, in our state and our culture. And if we let Joe Biden and Stacey Abrams bring their liberal agenda from Washington to Atlanta, how do we turn out? Terrible. Me and my family, we intend to stand and fight.”

Jones invoked the Book of Revelation, which speaks of the end times.

“If you grew up in a small town, particularly in the Southern Baptist church, you always heard about the book of Revelation,” he said. “You know about the book of Revelation and the fire and fury and the brimstone that was coming down, and you never thought it could actually happen. And what I see today is, if you do study the book, and I don’t pretend to be a scholar, there’s people in this room much better versed in this than I am, but when you look at what’s going on in the world today, with the instantaneous information that’s going on, what’s going on in Europe, and over in Asia, things of that nature, and even right here at home at the borders, you have to wonder if the Book of Revelations is coming to pass here right before our very eyes.”

Seaver touted her work as an anti-abortion activist and sought to distinguish herself on the subject of gambling.

Sen. Burt Jones. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

“I was a single mother, I know what it’s like to struggle,” she said. “I know what it’s like to work three jobs, find daycare, find someone to financially support yourself. It’s tough out there. And we have to remember because some of those women that do choose life, I was lucky enough to have my family behind me, but sometimes they don’t. We not only have to support life, but we have to be the resource and step up to the plate and help these mothers. One thing I want to make sure you’re aware of is I’m standing up strongly against something here alone, that my two opponents support legalized gambling. I stand up against it, and I stand alone in this race, but not with the people of Georgia, not the conservatives of Georgia that don’t want to see gambling in our state.”

Senate

Senators typically serve for six years, but Sen. Raphael Warnock’s 2020 victory only won him the remainder of former Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term, which means the freshman is back in the hot seat heading into the November election. Leading the pack to defeat him are Herschel Walker, the Trump-endorsed University of Georgia football star and entrepreneur, and Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black.

Herschel Walker. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

Walker’s speech — the only one at the event to include a moderator — focused heavily on his faith.

“When I go to Washington, Christ is going with me, and he’s a bad man,” Walker said. “It’s time for us to stand up and do what is right. We talk about coming together, but it’s in the Bible that we should be together because the only separation he talks about is believers and non-believers. So what do we get when you’re talking about color? We don’t need to talk about color, what we need to talk about is our Lord Jesus Christ and have faith in Him, because if we have faith in Him, things will get soft, because that’s what we got to do together as people is believe in each other.”

Black also spoke of his personal faith, asking the crowd to pray for Ukrainians who he said are in danger of being invaded by communists because of Biden’s lack of leadership.

He extended the martial metaphors to the home front as well.

Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

“We’re in a great challenge,” he said. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are at war. We’re at war for the security of our nation. We’re at war for the security of our homes. We’re at war for the security of our God.”

Black said he is the best candidate to lead Georgia in that war.

“This is a rough and tumble business. We have to get in the fight,” he said. “My commitment to you is to go into every corner of the state of Georgia. I want to be in your community. We’re going to extend the hand of this coalition, ask others to join us in a historic grassroots effort to take our state back, to take Republican, conservative leadership back to the United States Senate and take that needed step to return our country to faith and freedom.”

Ralston

The governor’s race marks the first time in decades that a sitting Georgia governor has been challenged by a member of his own party, a fact which pundits say illustrates a divide in the GOP between the Trump-backed candidates and those without the former president’s blessing. In his remarks, House Speaker David Ralston quoted the Gospel of Mark to warn against too much interparty fighting.

“In chapter three, Mark warns, ‘If a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand,’” Ralston said. “President Lincoln would borrow those words, their wisdom, in 1858. They remind us today that unity is a powerful force.”

Ralston touted conservative legislation like the Republican voting package and the so-called heartbeat bill passed in 2019 which would put strict limits on abortions, and he said such measures only passed because conservatives of different stripes worked together.

Speaker David Ralston. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

“Our work is possible only because there are men and women of integrity elected to serve under the Gold Dome,” he said. “Ones who never forget where they came from, or who they serve. So, my only ask today is this: pray for us. Pray that we can find that common ground, to stand, shoulder to shoulder, to keep this state moving in the right direction. Pray that all of us will refrain from attacking one another. Every ounce of energy and every moment of time spent on criticizing each other is energy and time that could well be spent on reclaiming the conservative values that first brought us together as conservatives and that represent a real heart and soul of this state that we know and love, called Georgia.”

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Ross Williams
Ross Williams

Before joining the Georgia Recorder, Ross Williams covered local and state government for the Marietta Daily Journal.Williams' reporting took him from City Hall to homeless camps, from the offices of business executives to the living rooms of grieving parents. His work earned recognition from the Georgia Associated Press Media Editors and the Georgia Press Association, including beat reporting, business writing and non-deadline reporting. A native of Cobb County, Williams holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Atlanta's Oglethorpe University and a master’s in journalism from Northwestern University.

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