NEW YORK (AP) — Former Vice President Mike Pence will campaign with Republican incumbent Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp the day before this month’s GOP primary in his most significant political break with the former President Donald Trump to date.
Kemp’s campaign announced Friday morning that Pence will headline a rally to get out of the vote for Kemp on Monday, May 23, the day before the vote. That puts Pence in direct conflict with Trump-endorsed nominee David Perdue, who is trailing in the polls. Kemp is one of Trump’s top targets this election cycle due to his refusal to cooperate with Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.
“Brian Kemp is my friend, a man devoted to faith, family and the people of Georgia,” Pence said in a statement. “I am proud to offer my full support for four more years to Brian Kemp as governor of the great state of Georgia!”
The news comes as Pence has taken steps to distance himself from Trump as the former congressman and governor of Indiana eyes a 2024 presidential race that could put him in direct competition with his former boss.
This has included calling Trump by name. In February, Pence said Trump was ‘wrong’ insist that Pence had the power to unilaterally overturn the 2020 election results — a power that vice presidents do not possess. In a separate speech before top Republican donors, Pence urged the GOP to overrule Trump’s election grievances and said there was ‘no place in this party for apologists’ for Vladimir Putin after Trump praised the maneuvers of the Russian leader as “brilliant” before his brutal invasion of Ukraine.
“Elections are about the future,” Pence said in March. “My fellow Republicans, we can only win if we are united around an optimistic vision of the future based on our highest values. We cannot win by fighting the battles of yesterday or by challenging the past.
In an interview with radio host John Fredericks on the conservative Real America’s Voice, Trump declined to lash out at Pence when asked about his decision to campaign with Kemp.
“Well, Mike tries to get involved and he’s a really nice guy,” he said. “But he really let us all down.”
The former president, meanwhile, continued to circle around a trio of current and former Republican governors, including New Jersey’s Chris Christie, whom he previously referred to as “RINO” — or “Republicans in name only.” – for supporting Kemp.
“We have to fight these people,” Trump said Friday.
Earlier this week, Trump said their support “tells you everything you need to know about what you’re getting in Georgia — just a continuation of bad elections and a real RINO if you vote for Brian Kemp.”
“Maybe the ‘R’ in RINO really stands for re-elected,” Christie joked.
The race in Georgia is a gamble for Trump, who picked up a major win in Ohio earlier this month when JD Vance, the candidate he endorsed, came from behind to win a competitive GOP Senate primary. But last week, his choice for Nebraska governor, Charles Herbster, lost his primary. amid fuming allegations. And Trump faces more challenges aheadincluding in Pennsylvania next week, where his Senate pick, famed heart surgeon Mehmet Oz, is locked in a tight three-way race.
Kemp had been significantly ahead of Perdue in the March and April polls, and many expect Kemp to win without a runoff in June, which would be triggered if no candidate wins a majority of votes.
Still, Trump expressed optimism for his nominee on Friday, saying he had “heard some good things” about Perdue’s position. Perdue’s campaign argued this week that the record turnout during the early voting period in Georgia, particularly among Republicans who have not traditionally voted in the primaries, is good for their candidate. They say pollsters missed Perdue’s support, though there’s no way to tell who primary voters are picking.
Perdue, a former senator, has also fallen behind in fundraising and had about $900,000 in cash on April 30, less than a month before the May 24 primary, while Kemp had $10.7 million.
Trump’s Political Action Committee last month donated $500,000 to group running attack ads against Kemp — his first major outlay in any race this cycle, despite starting the year with over $120 million in cash. Trump rallied behind Perdue and his other frontrunners in Georgia in March, but has no plans to return.
But the Republican Governors Association has spent millions supporting Kemp, compounding Perdue’s financial disadvantage. Christie, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey are all expected to fight for Kemp in the final days as part of the push.
State Republicans are also rallying behind Kemp. Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, whose relationship with Kemp was rocky during Kemp’s first 18 months in office, said Thursday that “the government. Kemp is my governor, and I will support him,” Thursday after the governor signed the next state budget in Ralston’s hometown. Ralston said Kemp had “taken a lot of unfair hits”.
The winner will face Democrat Stacey Abrams, who has already raised more than $20 million and had $8 million in cash on April 30.
Associated Press writer Jeff Amy contributed from Atlanta.