JEKYLL ISLAND – Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp drew jeers and boos at his state party’s annual convention Saturday, laying bare the bitterness that remains among Republicans over his role in certifying Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential race.
Kemp’s supporters tried to drown out the taunts and he pleaded for party harmony. Heading into his 2022 reelection campaign, the governor emphasized his accomplishments, especially an election overhaul that GOP state lawmakers pushed in reaction to Donald Trump’s false assertions that he lost in November because of voter fraud.
“We must be strong and courageous,” Kemp said. He said of Democrats: “They’ve got Hollywood. They’ve got billionaires in New York and California. ... That is why we have to be united as well and move forward together.”
Yet Kemp never mentioned the former president who has bashed him for months and who returned to the political arena later Saturday with a speech to North Carolina Republicans. Nor did Kemp ever explicitly state that the 2020 election was fraudulent or inaccurately tallied, setting him apart from a parade of other speakers who took the stage, including one of his underdog primary rivals who received a rousing response.
Kemp maintained enough strength to easily beat back a resolution condemning his handling of the election. At least 15 local party conventions out of 159 counties and two congressional district conventions out of 14 adopted such resolutions. But the state party’s resolutions committee shelved the matter, and Kemp opponents were unable Saturday to force a full convention vote.
But delegates censured Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, another Republican, for his more direct part in administering the 2020 elections. Raffensperger, like Kemp, is seeking re-election. Unlike Kemp, he did not attend his own party’s convention.
The scene underscored Trump’s iron hold on the Republican Party even in defeat and the potential peril for Kemp or any other GOP figure who crosses the former president, intentionally or not. And it left many Kemp supporters worried that Trump loyalists’ continued fixation on 2020 will doom the party in the coming midterm elections.
“I’m scared to death of these anti-Kemp Republicans,” said James Hall, a 37-year-old delegate from Savannah.