Politics

Takeaways from the night the lights went out in Georgia for Trump

Jonathan Allen
WATCH LIVE
U.S. President Donald Trump attends a campaign rally for Republican U.S. senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, ahead of their January runoff elections to determine control of the U.S. Senate, in Valdosta, Georgia, U.S., December 5, 2020.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

WASHINGTON — It was the night the lights went out in Georgia for Team Trump.

Former President Donald Trump's favorites were dismissed up and down the ballot Tuesday, as Republican voters handed him a book-end rebuke to his 2020 re-election bid loss in the state.

But Georgia was just one of four states that held contests Tuesday, and voters in Texas, Alabama and Arkansas also provided fresh clues about the shifting sentiments of the American electorate in this midterm election year.

Here are four key takeaways from Tuesday night:

What Trump really lost in Georgia

Trump's top targets were Gov. Brian Kemp, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Attorney General Chris Carr, all of whom refused to help him try to overturn the 2020 election results in the state.

Governor Brian Kemp speaks after winning the Republican primary during his primary election watch party in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. May 24, 2022. 
Dustin Chambers | Reuters

Kemp crushed his Trump-recruited challenger, former Sen. David Perdue, by a margin of more than 3-to-1. Carr pummeled his Trump-endorsed rival, John Gordon, by a similar spread. And Raffensperger did well enough — taking more than 50 percent — to avoid a runoff against Trump-backed Rep. Jody Hice, who managed just a third of the vote.

Two of Trump's picks for House primaries, former Democrat Vernon Jones and Jake Evans, advanced to runoffs but finished second in their respective races.

While Trump could claim victory in watching Herschel Walker coast to the GOP Senate nod and Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene trounce her primary opponent, the high-profile losses are potentially more consequential for his future.

Former college football star and current senatorial candidate Herschel Walker speaks at a rally, as former U.S. President Donald Trump applauds, in Perry, Georgia, U.S. September 25, 2021.
Dustin Chambers | Reuters

If Kemp, Carr and Raffensperger are re-elected in November, they will sit in power in the state during the 2024 presidential election. So, rather than installing loyalists in posts Trump saw as pivotal to his 2020 defeat, he whiffed big time in trying to knock out the incumbents who defied him.

For some Georgia Republicans, it was a sign of poor political judgment on Trump's part to expend so much capital in the state's primary — and on the popular Kemp, in particular.

"Why would Trump come after Kemp when odds were Kemp was going to win? Georgia's going to be a very important state to him in 2024 if he decides to run," said former Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga. "I don't understand it."

Culling the Blue Dog herd

The ranks of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition thinned again Tuesday, as freshman Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Ga., lost to fellow Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., in a rare redistricting-spurred primary between incumbents.

In Texas, a second Blue Dog — Rep. Henry Cuellar — was locked in a tight runoff battle against progressive favorite Jessica Cisneros early Wednesday morning. And Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader, a co-chair of the coalition, trailed by a wide margin as his state continued to count ballots from a May 17 primary.

Regardless of how the latter two races turn out, the Blue Dogs will be able to meet in a much smaller Capitol office next year. Several members of the coalition are retiring or seeking higher office, including Reps. Stephanie Murphy and Charlie Crist of Florida and Tennessee Rep. Jim Cooper.

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Blue Dogs have long battled against a leftward shift in their party, and they are losing that fight in some parts of the country.

Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which backed Cisneros in Texas, said that Blue Dogs often try to highlight progressive aspects of their platforms and records in primaries because they are out of step with the party's base.

"In the limited races where Blue Dogs honestly run as corporate, conservative Democrats — like Kurt Schrader and Carolyn Bourdeaux — they consistently lose an honest battle of ideas," Green said.

While it remains to be seen whether Schrader and Cuellar will hang on, there can be no doubt that it is getting harder for Blue Dogs to keep their seats.

A rising GOP star in Arkansas

It was no surprise that Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the former Trump White House press secretary, won her gubernatorial primary in Arkansas Tuesday — and there's no doubt she's a heavy favorite to win in November against Democrat Chris Jones.

Not yet 40, Sanders would become the first woman to serve as governor in the same state that her father did. More importantly, she easily bridged the divide between Trump's base and more establishment Republicans to take more than 80 percent of the vote.

It's way too early to know whether Sanders will ever seek higher office, but the small pool of women governors — there are just three in the GOP right now — always produces a fount of speculation from pundits and political operatives.

For example, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds are often mentioned as potential running mates if Trump seeks the presidency in 2024. And, of course, then-Gov. Sarah Palin was plucked from Alaska to join John McCain's ticket in 2008.

Time will tell what's in store for Sanders, but — for better or worse —she knows her way around Washington.

A tale of survival — for now — in Alabama

When Trump yanked his endorsement of Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks's Senate campaign two months ago, it looked like curtains for a congressman who had been one of his most loyal allies.

Upset by what he saw as a lackluster campaign by Brooks, and the lawmaker's suggestion that Republicans move on from the 2020 election, Trump declared that Brooks "went 'woke.'"

That gave a huge opening to Brooks's rivals, longtime Senate GOP aide Katie Britt and Army veteran Mike Durant. But Brooks clawed his way back into the race and finished second to Britt — 45 percent to 29 percent with 90 percent of precincts reporting — to force a runoff.

While sticking to a Trump-style platform, Brooks did something that many Republicans on the outs with the former president haven't done: he snapped back.

Brooks accused Trump of letting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., with whom Trump has a famously bitter relationship, "manipulate him again."

And he got away with it — at least for now. If he manages to win in the runoff, he will provide another proof point for the case that GOP voters can look past the former president's endorsements — both those given and those withdrawn.

"No one has 100 percent influence," Brooks told NBC News. "There are varying degrees of influence in different parts of the country."