With the 2022 midterm election primary season in full flow now, perhaps the most important so far will be Georgia’s in which several races will likely decide the political shape the state will be in after the November general election. But with a record shattering number of early voters, signs are good that the turnout will be high as well.
Remarkably, former president Donald Trump has a heavy influence in the primary among Republicans in a state which he lost in the 2020 elections, but retained many loyalists.
The election’s biggest star, gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, will not have to campaign this round, but several other races are shaping up to provide more than enough drama. Former senator David Perdue and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker are testing Trump’s status as a Republican kingmaker, while a pair of incumbents are set to battle each other for a single seat in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District. What’s more, Democratic Senator Rev. Raphael Warnock’s first election battle as an incumbent and the fate of voting rights hangs in the balance of the Secretary of State race. Here’s what you need to know.
Governor (Election Preview): Brian Kemp/ Stacey Abrams
Spoiler alert: Stacey Abrams will be the Democratic nominee. She is running unopposed in the Democratic primary, but the Republican primary is a crowded one that will very likely be won by incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp. Abrams narrowly lost to Kemp four years ago in what remains a highly controversial election marked by voter suppression efforts throughout Georgia. Since that 2018 election, Kemp has signed several laws designed to suppress the vote into law, including legislation that made it more difficult to vote via drop boxes and absentee ballots. It also stripped election oversight duties from the Secretary of State in favor of the state’s overwhelmingly Republican General Assembly.
Abrams, for her part, has sued current Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger to contest Georgia’s “exact match” policy, which requires an exact signature match to register to vote – and led to the state rejecting thousands of voter registrations. Abrams contends that Kemp successfully used the policy to suppress the vote in communities of color during the 2018 election, which he won by 55,000 votes. Before he can face off against Abrams again, however, Kemp will have to fend off a slew of Republican primary challengers that includes Trump-backed former Senator David Perdue and extreme conservative Kandiss Taylor, who recently drew controversy for declaring that "the church runs the state of Georgia" during a campaign event.
Lieutenant Governor (Election Preview)
The field is also crowded among both Democrats and Republicans with their sight set on the No. 2 seat in Georgia’s state government. Georgia is one of 17 states where candidates for lieutenant governor run separately from gubernatorial candidates. A total of 13 different names have filed to run for the office after GOP Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan decided against running again, leaving the field wide open to take his spot.
On the Democratic side that includes State Representatives Erick Allen (pictured), Derrick Jackson and Renitta Shannon (pictured); as well as former Atlanta City Council Member Kwanza Hall (pictured), and Charlie Bailey, who ran for Georgia attorney general in 2018.
Meanwhile, the Republican race has Trump-supported State Sen. Burt Jones (pictured) vying against State Sen. Butch Miller, Lafayette, Ga., plant supervisor Mack McGregor, and businesswoman Jeanne Seaver, who has worked for the Trump campaign.
Senate (Election Preview): Raphael Warnock/Herschel Walker
Incumbent Democratic Senator Rev. Raphael Warnock remains heavily favored to stave off a primary challenge from local entrepreneur Tamara Johnson-Shealey. However, pundits are waiting to see how Trump-endorsed Republican candidate and University of Georgia football legend Herschel Walker fares against a slate of primary challengers that include current state agriculture commissioner Gary Black, former Navy SEAL Latham Saddler, and fellow former college football player Kelvin King.
As a Morehouse College graduate and current pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, Warnock enjoys widespread popularity and name recognition amongst the growing progressive class in Georgia. In his U.S. Senate tenure, Warnock has already won plaudits (and attacks from Republicans) for his vote on a $1.9 trillion-dollar COVID-19 relief package in March. He’s also won raves for keeping his campaign promise to help out struggling Black farm workers by adding a debt relief provision to President Biden’s embattled Build Back Better plan. However, Republicans, desperate to reclaim one of the Georgia senatorial seats that flipped control of the Senate to the Democrats two years ago, are coalescing around Walker, who has spent much of his campaign courting controversy. During the primary run-up, he ducked several Republican debates, allegations that he embellished his academic record and called for a total ban on abortion – without exceptions in the midst of a national firestorm over Roe vs. Wade.
7th Congressional District (Democratic): McBath vs Carolyn Bourdeaux
Thanks to a once-per-decade restricting process that allowed Republican Gov. Brian Kemp to redraw statewide district maps to favor Republicans, incumbent Democratic congresswomen Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux are set to face each other in Tuesday’s primary. McBath, who currently represents Georgia’s 6th Congressional District just north of Atlanta, has chosen to run against Bourdeaux to represent the 7th Congressional District, which had been redrawn to heavily favor Democrats.
Although political pundits have portrayed the race as a microcosm of the battle between the progressive and centrist wings of the Democratic party, McBath and Bourdeaux agree on many issues. Both have come out strongly in favor of codifying abortion rights and the expansion of voter protections, but Bourdeaux burnished her centrist bona fides last year by voting to block a budget resolution that would have helped pass President Biden’s social policy overhaul. On the other hand, McBath has also had to face criticism for leaving the 6th District to run in a district that favors her. If neither candidate crosses the 50 percent threshold required to win the primary outright, they will face off in a runoff on June 21.
Secretary of State
Republican incumbent Brad Raffensberger won widespread applause from the left for resisting former President Trump’s call to “find 11,780 votes” for him two years ago. Since then, he has faced opposition from voting rights groups for making it even tougher for voters to get to the polls. He has also faced down Republicans who erroneously believe that Trump won an election that he actually lost by 7 million votes nationally. As a result, Raffensberger faces a tough primary challenge from Trump-backed challenger and Congressman Jody Hice, who has told voters that he would not have certified President Biden’s victory in Georgia and has criticized Raffensberger for doing so. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll last month placed Raffensberger and Hice in a statistical dead heat among Republican voters.
The Democratic primary features rising star Bee Nguyen, who currently leads a crowded field that includes former Cobb County Democratic Party chairman Michael Owens, former state representative and Georgia Legislative Black Caucus chair Dee Dawkins-Haigler, former Fulton county commissioner Dr. John Eaves, and former state senator Floyd Griffin. However, despite big-name endorsements from Emily’s List and NARAL Pro-Choice America, recent polling from WXIA suggests that 60 percent of Democratic primary voters remain undecided.
The attorney general election is shaping up to be yet another referendum on former President Trump’s power within the Republican party. Along with Kemp and Raffensberger, Republican frontrunner and incumbent Chris Carr has earned Trump’s ire for resisting his calls to overturn President Biden’s victory in Georgia. Although Carr has sued the Biden administration multiple times, Trump has since endorsed Republican primary challenger John Gordon, who is campaigning on a promise to combat election fraud in the state.
The Democratic party primary will pit state senator Jen Jordan against former Fulton County assistant district attorney Christian Wise Smith. Jordan has criticized Carr’s perceived overly partisan approach to the office, and has pledged to implement a voting rights division in the attorney general’s office if elected. Smith has promised to overhaul the criminal justice system in the state to ensure equal representation for all Georgians. The winner of each primary will face Libertarian candidate Martin Cowen in the November general election.
Since Kemp signed one of the strictest voter suppression laws in the country last year, Black voters have worried about how some of its measures – which included criminalizing passing out water to voters, cutting early voting hours, and limiting absentee and dropbox voting – might curtail voter turnout. As a result reports have grown that voter registration in Georgia has significantly declined.
However, early voting turnout has skyrocketed despite these restrictions. Georgians have cast nearly 900,000 votes – a nearly threefold increase over the 2018 election count – since early voting began on May 2. Although Republicans have touted the increased turnout as evidence that voting rights restrictions have no effect on access to the polls, Democrats insist that the numbers actually reflect the success of their efforts to work around the new rules. Tuesday’s in-person primary, they say, will make any adverse impacts on turnout, especially on communities of color, much clearer.