What to watch in Tuesday’s primaries in Georgia

Along with setting matchups for Senate and open House seats, two House Democrats are battling each other in 7th District

U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker autographs a University of Georgia football helmet for Maj. Jerry Blash of the Liberty County Sheriff’s office at the Law Enforcement Appreciation Cookout in Glennville, Ga., on April 14.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker autographs a University of Georgia football helmet for Maj. Jerry Blash of the Liberty County Sheriff’s office at the Law Enforcement Appreciation Cookout in Glennville, Ga., on April 14. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted May 23, 2022 at 12:18pm, Updated at 2:15pm

As former President Donald Trump has sought to maintain his hold on the Republican Party, he has trained his sights on Tuesday’s GOP primaries in Georgia, where he has endorsed nine candidates, including a former senator running for governor and an incumbent House member running for secretary of State. 

Along with a nominee for Senate who will likely challenge incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock, Georgia Republicans will weigh in on state officials who attracted Trump’s ire for refusing to overturn the 2020 election. Trump backed former Sen. David Perdue’s challenge against GOP Gov. Brian Kemp. Trump is also endorsing Georgia Rep. Jody Hice’s challenge to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Early voting hit record levels — a 239 percent increase from the same point  in the 2018 primary and a 160 percent increase over the 2020 primary, according to the secretary of State.  While most of those voters were Republicans, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week that about 7 percent of voters casting ballots in Republican primaries had voted as Democrats in 2020, which is allowed under the state’s open primary rules. 

Here are the Senate and House races to watch: 

Walker in the home stretch

With an endorsement from Trump and an enduring celebrity from his days as a star running back for the University of Georgia Bulldogs and in the NFL, Herschel Walker is widely expected to win the Georgia GOP nomination to challenge Warnock, who is running for a complete term after winning a runoff special election that helped give Democrats their narrow control of the Senate in January 2021. President Joe Biden won the state by less than 1 point in the 2020 elections, and Warnock is one of the most vulnerable Senate incumbents in November, when the contest is rated a Toss-up by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. 

Walker has raised more than $16 million — four times the total of the second-highest fundraiser in the GOP field, former Navy SEAL Latham Saddler. He has also consistently held a decisive lead in public polls and drawn the most attention from outside groups, which have spent $450,000 supporting him — about half of that from a group called 34N22 — and $27,000 opposing him. But that doesn’t mean Walker will emerge from the primary unscathed. 

In the weeks leading up to the election, the other five Republicans on the ballot banded together to attack Walker for past allegations of domestic violence and other abusive behavior toward women that they warn could hurt his chances of defeating Warnock in November. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has run a series of stories raising questions about his claims of past business successes. And new super PACs vowed to make significant investments in attacking Walker ahead of the primary. Only one of those, a group called Georgia First PAC, had reported spending to the Federal Election Commission by May 20, with $407,000 supporting Saddler and $18,000 opposing Walker. 

Warnock, who has a challenge from activist Tamara Johnson-Shealey, is expected to easily win the Democratic nomination. 

Greene faces challengers

Lightning rod Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s primary in Georgia’s 14th District is another test of the limits GOP voters will place on lawmakers who defy norms in Washington. 

Greene has five Republican challengers, including businesswoman Jennifer Strahan, a pro-Trump conservative who has attracted support from a number of national Republican groups and lawmakers for her attacks on Greene as too interested in culling her celebrity profile to get anything done. 

Greene was stripped of her committee assignments in 2021 because of her refusal to denounce past incendiary comments, including support for the QAnon conspiracy theory and calls for violence against Democratic lawmakers. 

But Greene remains “overwhelmingly popular” with voters in her largely rural district, said University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock. “Marjorie Taylor Greene is in step with the beliefs of her constituents,” he said. He said Greene was in a much stronger position than Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn, her ally in the MAGA wing of the House, who lost his primary in North Carolina last week after he infuriated GOP leaders in Washington with allegations he had been offered cocaine and invited to orgies. 

“She says crazy things, but not stupid things,” Bullock said, adding that many Republican voters would not be embarassed by Greene’s policy positions, as they were by Cawthorn’s behavior. 

Trump has endorsed Greene, whose profile has helped her collect a massive $9 million in campaign contributions. She also had $20,000 in support from outside groups that typically back conservative Republicans, the Right Woman PAC and Drain the DC Swamp PAC, with PACs spending $184,000 against her. 

Strahan, meanwhile, has pulled in just $391,000. She also had $335,000 in outside support, most of it from the Value in Electing Women Political Action Committee, or View PAC, which supports Republican women. View PAC’s endorsement of Strahan was its first of a candidate challenging a Republican incumbent. 

A three-way primary on the Democratic side has also attracted massive amounts of money. Army veteran Marcus Flowers, the top fundraiser, has pulled in nearly $8.2 million. But the district would have voted for Trump by 37 points in 2020 under its current lines, and the race is rated Solid Republican by Inside Elections. 

McBath faces Bourdeaux

In the suburban Atlanta 7th District, Democratic incumbents Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux are running against each other. McBath moved districts to avoid running again in the neighboring 6th District, which was redrawn to favor Republicans. The newly drawn 7th District would have voted for Biden by 26 points in the 2020 election and is rated Solid Democratic. 

Both McBath and Bourdeaux flipped their current districts in high-profile elections in 2018 and 2020, respectively, with the support of House progressives. But McBath, a gun control advocate whose son was murdered at a gas station in 2012, is now seen as the more progressive of the two. She has support from high-profile Democratic groups and has outpaced Bourdeaux in fundraising, pulling in $4.3 million to Bourdeaux’s $3.1 million. She also has gotten $4.2 million in outside support, with $20,000 going to oppose her from the public-service-oriented Democrats Serve PAC. Bourdeaux is a public policy expert and has argued that she is better positioned to represent the new district because it contains much of the area she currently represents. 

With a third candidate in the race, Donna McLeod, the winner will have to get more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a June 21 runoff. 

Georgia Rep. David Scott, a member of the Blue Dog Coalition of moderate Democrats, is also fending off a primary to his left after narrowly avoiding a runoff in 2020. State Sen. Vincent Fort has attracted the most attention of the three other Democrats on the ballot, Bullock said. Fort has argued that his progressive positions are a better match for the district, which Biden would have won with 80 percent. Scott has the fundraising advantage, with $1.4 million raised and $790,000 on hand as of May 4. Fort raised $87,000. 

Races for open seats

Hice’s decision to run for secretary of State left an open seat in his solidly Republican 10th District. Former Democratic state Rep. Vernon Jones got Trump’s endorsement in the GOP contest after he dropped out of the gubernatorial race. With seven other Republicans in the race, Trump could claim credit for a Jones victory, Bullock said, but he faces stiff competition from trucking company owner Mike Collins, the son of former Rep. Mac Collins who came close to winning the seat in 2014; and former Rep. Paul Broun. Both Collins and Broun have been running pro-Trump campaigns. Collins was the top fundraiser, receiving about $585,000 from contributors and putting another $531,000 of his own money into the race as of May 4.  Jones raised $337,000, the second-smallest haul in the race. Collins also had $110,000 in outside support, while a group called Free American PAC spent $27,000 opposing Jones. That group reportedly sent out mailers with a picture of Jones, who is Black, juxtaposed with a picture of a crying white woman alleging that Jones has a history of “intimidation, rape and abuse.” Another candidate, former tax commissioner David Curry, received $67,000 in support from a group called Georgia Values Action. 

Trump has also weighed in on the nine-way race to replace McBath in the Atlanta-area 6th District, which would have voted for Trump by 15 points under the new congressional map. He endorsed former state ethics commission Chairman Jake Evans in the final weeks of the race. Evans’ father, Randy Evans, is a lawyer who was the ambassador to Luxembourg during the Trump administration and helped represent Trump and his campaign in a legal fight related to his baseless claims of election fraud in 2020. 

Emergency room physician Rich McCormick, who was the GOP nominee in the 7th District in 2020, has an endorsement from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. 

All the candidates have pushed false claims about the 2020 election. McCormick is the top fundraiser in the race, with $2.8 million raised, including a personal loan of $165,000. Jake Evans’ $1.6 million haul, which includes a personal $700,000 loan, was the second-highest. Evans benefited from $57,000 in outside support, with $81,000 spent opposing him. McCormick got $135,000 in outside support, including $6,000 from the anti-tax Club for Growth, an influential group in GOP primaries, with $215,000 in outside spending against him. Meagan Hanson, an attorney and former state representative, got $207,000 in support from a group called Right on Time. 

Trailblazer PAC, which was behind the combined $272,000 spent supporting Jake Evans and opposing McCormick, received $475,000 in contributions through April 28 from Randy Evans.

This report has been updated to show a source of outside funds supporting Evans and opposing McCormick.