Trump Republican loyalists not enough as Trump grip slips

McCormick, Collins win GOP runoff races

By: - June 22, 2022 12:45 am

Rich McCormick celebrates after winning the GOP runoff for the 6th congressional district. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

Two Trump-backed congressional candidates came up far short in Tuesday’s runoff election, serving as further evidence of the former president’s waning influence in Georgia.  

Former Democratic state Rep. Vernon Jones left the governor’s race to run for Congress in a deep red east Georgia district with former President Donald Trump’s blessing. Jones was a close second place last month but lost in a landslide Tuesday to trucking executive Mike Collins after a bitterly fought runoff.

And closer to Atlanta, Roswell attorney Jake Evans often touted Trump’s endorsement and attempted to paint Rich McCormick as too centrist. McCormick, who is an emergency medicine doctor, clinched the GOP nomination with a resounding win Tuesday. 

Mike Collins, who is running for Georgia’s 10th congressional district, says he’s a “pro-Trump” Republican. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

The Associated Press called both races Tuesday night. McCormick and Collins will face Democratic challengers in November, but the two districts strongly favor Republicans.

“I’m going to put this in perspective: We just went up against – let me be careful, I’m on camera – we just took on the machine and we won,” McCormick said to cheers at his election watch party at the Polo Golf and Country Club in Cumming. “And it feels good.”

McCormick playfully held up one of his opponent’s mailers calling him a “RINO,” for Republican in Name Only, and threw it on the ground before striking a conciliatory tone.

“We just got a call from Kevin McCarthy. He said congratulations,” McCormick said, referring to the U.S. House minority leader. “I expect Donald Trump to call us and Newt Gingrich, because we’re going to be friends and we’re going to win this together and we’re going to move forward together because that’s what the party is about.”

McCormick, a U.S. Marine who competed on “American Gladiators” in the 1990s, built up his name recognition after narrowly losing to Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Bourdeaux in the neighboring district in the north Atlanta suburbs in 2020. 

The Suwanee Republican will face Dawsonville Democrat and combat veteran Bob Christian in the fall, but the district was redrawn last year to include conservative turf reaching up into Dawson County.

The incumbent, Democratic Congresswoman Lucy McBath, opted to run in the neighboring 7th District instead of facing an uphill battle in her current district. McBath soundly beat Bourdeaux last month without a runoff and will face Republican Mark Gonsalves in the fall, though the district was redrawn as a safer Democratic seat. 

In the 10th District, Collins handily won after running as a pro-Trump candidate even if he didn’t have his official backing. But he did have the endorsement of Gov. Brian Kemp, whose refusal to help overturn the 2020 election made him one of Trump’s favorite targets.

“I think we got the Trump supporters. I think they were there. Because they knew from the beginning that I was on the Trump team way before he was the nominee,” Collins said Tuesday night in Jackson. “So, I believed in those policies, that America first agenda, and I actually have lived that.

“Everybody knew that the endorsement was not to run for Congress, but to get out of the governor’s race. So, he could have run for dog catcher, and he’d have got that endorsement,” he added.

Trump effect dulled in Georgia

Jones and Evans were part of a slate of 13 Trump-endorsed candidates in Georgia’s GOP primary. Only two of the former president’s picks – former University of Georgia football star Hershel Walker for the U.S. Senate and state Sen. Burt Jones for lieutenant governor – were successful. Others, like former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, lost overwhelmingly last month.

Jake Evans talks to reporters after the District 6 runoff debate in early June. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

The congressional candidates did not back away from Trump’s support for the runoff. The former president held a brief tele-rally for Evans Monday night, calling him a “MAGA warrior.” Evans, who is the former chairman of the state ethics commission, made clear in the lead-up to Tuesday that he had no plans to “shy away” from Trump’s support.  

“It’s bittersweet in some ways. I think it’s the ending of one chapter and the beginning of a new chapter,” Evans told supporters Tuesday night in Alpharetta, pledging to “continue to fight for the values that this country is based on.”

McCormick downplayed what Evans’ loss might say about the state of the Republican party. 

“I’d like to say the people of Georgia got this right. They saw past the endorsements, which I think endorsements can get you started, but they’ll never finish you,” he told reporters. “And I think if you look at the races, they kind of define themselves.” 

Jones stepped into the national spotlight in 2020 as an outspoken supporter of Trump and the lifelong Democrat became a Republican darling among the Trump faithful after the former president demanded Kemp resign for refusing to overturn his narrow 2020 Georgia election loss to President Joe Biden.

Former state Rep. Vernon Jones, who lost Tuesday’s GOP primary runoff for the 10th congressional district, pledged at his election night watch party to stay active in GOP politics. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

With “Trump Endorsed!” emblazoned on campaign banners hanging inside a Covington tavern Tuesday, a few dozen of his supporters found out early after polls closed that he’d lost his bid to become Republican nominee for the 10th Congressional District. 

The Associated Press called the race slightly before 8 p.m., an hour after polls closed for the district that spans from northeast of Atlanta toward Augusta.

A subdued crowd became more energetic as Jones joined them for handshakes, hugs, and a brief concession speech inside the downtown Social Goat Tavern. Jones pledged to remain involved in politics.

When asked why the crowd was behind him, Atlanta Tea Party co-founder Debbie Dooley did not hold back in her response: They were tired of the weak, pandering Republican officials.

“I’m going to work hard every day to make sure we elect conservatives who help this country back on the right track,” she said. “There’s a lot of work to be done and I can do as much out of office as in office. They can’t silence me, they can’t bury my passion.”

Georgia Recorder Senior Reporter Stanley Dunlap contributed to this report. 

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Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.