ATLANTA (CN) — Georgia took the national spotlight when former President Donald Trump slammed state officials for not backing his claims of a rigged election in 2020, and next month’s primary will show whether Peach State Republicans support his debunked theory.
"There's basically two wings of the Republican Party currently and Georgia is sort of a microcosm of that being fought out between the Trump wing and the non-Trump wing. And so, part of the question is also going to be who prevails and what what implications does that have for the general election," said Amy Steigerwalt, professor and associate chair of Georgia State University's Department of Political Science and editor-in-chief of the Justice System Journal.
She added, "There's a lot less of that type of either ideological or personal sort of division on the Democratic side, there's obviously a single candidate for the governor's race. So that makes it a lot easier for her, but that's going to be what everybody is watching."
Stacey Abrams, who has become well known in the Democratic community for her voting rights advocacy, is running again as the party's only candidate for governor with no challenger in the May 24 primary.
Abrams lost to Governor Brian Kemp in 2020, but they could potentially face a rematch in the November general election if Kemp advances as the Republican nominee.
Kemp, who has been repeatedly criticized by Trump in the aftermath of the 2020 election, faces a contentious challenge from the former president's chosen candidate, former U.S. Senator David Perdue.
The two have butted heads in two debates the past week, blaming one another for Republican election losses and arguing over who is more capable of beating Abrams.
Perdue has continued to reiterate Trump's disproven claim that the 2020 presidential election and the 2021 U.S. Senate runoffs in Georgia were "stolen" by Democrats and that Kemp is responsible.
"I was secretary of state for eight years," Kemp said during the first debate in Atlanta on Sunday, "and I don't need to be lectured by someone that lost their last election about what our voting laws are and who has responsibilities for those in our state."
A former executive at Reebok and Dollar General, Perdue notoriously skipped a debate against Democrat Jon Ossoff, who eventually took his Senate seat in the January 2021 runoff.
Public speaker and civil rights advocate Catherine Davis, longtime educator Kandiss Taylor, and Tom Williams will also appear on the ballot in the Republican race for Georgia's top seat. In a push to shore up conservative support, Kemp has signed several laws recently including permitless firearm carry, income tax reductions and a number of culture-war related education policies.
The outcome of this election could have national implications, according to University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock.
"If Trump's endorsees do poorly, that will encourage others like Mike Pence, Ron DeSantis and others to give more serious consideration to running for president in 2024 since it would indicate a weakening of Trump's influence with the GOP electorate," said Bullock.
According to a recent survey conducted by the University of Georgia's School of Public and International Affairs Survey Research Center, 40.5% of voters said a Trump endorsement would make them much more or somewhat more likely to vote for a particular candidate, compared to half (50.5%) who said an endorsement would make no difference in their choice.
The former president appeared to have little effect on the governor's race, with Kemp polling about 10 points ahead of Perdue.
In the race for a U.S. Senate seat, Trump endorsee and former NFL and University of Georgia football star Hershel Walker appears to be the dominant favorite among Republican voters, despite his low-radar campaign strategy of only attending small, private gatherings.