The ex-president, still furious over his failed attempt to overturn the 2020 election, tumbled into over 100 primaries nationwide in the 2022 midterm elections in a bid to increase his influence over the GOP ahead of his own expected presidential bid in 2024 consolidate.

Nowhere is he more keen to weed out disloyal Republicans than in Georgia, where Kemp, despite baseless protests, ratified Trump’s narrow defeat and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger turned down his request to “find” more votes. But in this race, Trump’s chosen nominee is struggling to catch fire, calling into question the power of his endorsement.

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Kemp, whom Trump routinely brands as a “RINO” or Republican in name only, seems so far to be sailing above the former president’s contempt. Drawing on the expansive power of his tenure, he leads Perdue in polls and fundraisers, and on a weekend when both men were holding campaign rallies on opposite ends of the state, Kemp welcomed enthusiastic crowds and dismissed the avalanche of criticism he faced back as “noise”. Perdue, meanwhile, played his Trump endorsement video to a smaller group and faced pointed questions from voters about how effectively he made his arguments.

Kemp’s supporters cited the governor’s handling of the pandemic, which includes opposing mask mandates, for their support. And even some deeply devoted Trump supporters — people who believe his bogus narrative of a stolen election — have been reluctant to lay these imagined voting problems of 2020 at Kemp’s feet.

“Trump wanted Brian to dump the election — I don’t think Kemp could do that,” said Kris Yardley, a financial adviser at a standing-room-only Kemp event in Cleveland, Ga., who described himself as a “huge Trump” fan ‘ and a longtime supporter of Kemp.

With three months to go before the May 24 primary, the race is shaping up not only to test the power of Trump’s support, but voters’ patience in his efforts to exact revenge on his enemies. Also questionable: How motivating are his fictions about the 2020 election two years later?

“A jockey in the Kentucky Derby only gets one horse, and that’s David Perdue’s horse,” said Brian Robinson, a Republican strategist in the state. “If Kemp wins, that’s a crack in the armor. If Perdue wins, it will be confirmation that (Trump’s) support is still as strong as steel.”

Trump’s picks in a few other key races are also in tight contests, including Senate hopefuls in North Carolina and Alabama. The stakes are higher in Georgia for the former president after he spent months personally railing against Kemp and convincing another Republican in the field to back out to bolster Perdue. If the governor survives, it will prove there is life after he upset Trump — and Republicans weighing 2024 offers will likely take notice.

“The question is, can you bounce back from what’s considered vaguely disloyal?” said Liam Donovan, a Republican lobbyist and former adviser to the Senate GOP’s campaign arm. “Any potential challenger . . . They’ll feel a lot more comfortable putting the pieces together with the expectation that even if Mr. Trump gets angry and fires off some nasty press releases, it won’t be a deal-breaker for voters.”

Trump, enraged by a TV post questioning the effectiveness of his support of Perdue, released a statement earlier this month calling his support the “most powerful” in US political history.

In some ways, the Georgia race feels more like a soap opera than a political campaign. There have been episodes of betrayal and revenge, allies turned enemies, and the searing, even obsessive, anger of a former president trying to settle the score.

Kemp, a longtime state government fixture who defeated Democrat Stacey Abrams in the 2018 gubernatorial race, drew Trump’s wrath in late 2020 when he refused to back his conspiracy theories about the election, which Trump lost by fewer than 12,000 votes here. give in completely. Abrams, the former House minority leader and a suffrage icon for many Democrats, is running again, and Trump is so disgusted with Kemp that he has indicated he favors her.

“Of course have [Stacey Abrams] I think it might be better than having your current governor if you want to know the truth,” Trump said at a rally in Georgia in September.

Looking for someone to oust Kemp from office, Trump turned to Perdue, the former CEO of Dollar General who was elected to the Senate in 2014. Perdue lost re-election to Democrat Jon Ossoff in the January 2021 runoff after Trump made two trips to Georgia to complain of imagined voter fraud and many Republican voters stayed home. (A second Republican senator, Kelly Loeffler, also lost her runoff to Democrat Raphael Warnock. He is expected to face Trump-backed Republican soccer star Herschel Walker in his re-election campaign this fall. Walker’s candidacy was shattered by allegations of domestic violence undermine .)

Though sowing voter distrust in the state’s electoral system may have cost him his Senate seat, Perdue has placed the bogus allegations of fraud at the heart of his campaign for the governorship. Days after entering the race, he filed a lawsuit aimed at inspecting absentee ballots from the 2020 election and has sought to blame Kemp for Trump’s loss. He said he would not have confirmed the 2020 election if he had been governor.

“We fought side by side to get re-elected, and right after the election we’ve been fighting side by side ever since to find out what happened,” Perdue said here in Jesup, where he met the modest crowd of maybe two dozen voters described as “encouraging” and warned voters that the governor’s race could determine control of the White House in 2024.

“We can’t let Stacey Abrams win because if she’s governor, no Republican is going to win the presidential race,” he said.

According to a poll released earlier this month by the Trafalgar Group, a conservative firm, Kemp has the support of 49 percent of GOP primary voters, compared to Perdue’s 40 percent. But that doesn’t necessarily mean an easy win for Kemp, since the winning candidate in the primary needs 50 percent support to avoid a runoff.

Trump has been more successful in shaping other races. His endorsement of Walker helped clear the field of serious candidates for this Senate contest, while most Republicans have left Raffensperger, another frequent Trump target, to campaign for re-election without their support.

When asked why his Trump endorsement hasn’t increased his poll numbers further, Perdue, who often plays the Trump endorsement video at campaign events, said in an interview that many voters may not know about it.

“Only about 50 percent know about the support among Republican primary voters,” Perdue said, adding that he believes his campaign will get a big boost if and when Trump comes to the state to campaign for him.

“I think we’re planning that — he’s planning that, too,” Perdue said.

Perdue, some strategists believe, can close the 9 percentage point gap with more TV ads that ties him to Trump — though Kemp has a significant cash advantage, with almost $13 million at the end of January versus Perdue’s less than $1 million Dollar. Perdue has yet to report that he has put his own significant financial resources into the race.

And he had to battle the doubts of some voters, spooked by his 2021 defeat. In Jesup, one constituent, Larry Brantley, 68, asked him about his “lack of struggle” in trying to retain his Senate seat.

“What happened in 2020 I can lay at Brian Kemp’s feet,” said Perdue.

Some Republicans say Perdue’s problems say more about his shortcomings as a candidate than Trump is losing his touch. Perdue, a millionaire living on exclusive Sea Island, can appear stiff in front of grassroots voters who aren’t exactly his social peers. On Saturday, after his event in Jesup, he spent 12 minutes addressing just a handful of voters in an empty Douglas restaurant before heading to his next event.

“Trump’s probably realizing that it’s not like you can just wave a magic wand and your guy’s in there,” said Jay Williams, a Republican strategist in the state. “You can’t have a candidate who can’t talk to people. . . He doesn’t get reception at these events.”

The sentiment was different at a series of campaign rallies Kemp held in the northeast state the day before Perdue. There, in small mountain towns, Kemp only drew standing-room crowds — often consisting of Trump supporters who had decided to stay with the governor.

“For over a year, probably almost a year and a half, I’ve had a lot of people beating me up,” Kemp said in an interview. “And I just don’t think people pay much attention to noise outside of their everyday lives.”

As the sun went down in Cleveland, Georgia, Kemp quibbled with voters before his campaign speech, patting county commissioners on the back before taking the microphone and posing as a staunch defender of the state and Republican principles.

In a sign of how much Trump has shaped his party’s rhetoric, Kemp was quick to acknowledge Republican dissatisfaction with the 2020 election, but said he tried to counter it by passing an election bill that added new restrictions on absentee ballots .

“When I signed it, I immediately went on the offensive, and then I stayed on the offensive even when big companies tried to target us,” said Kemp, before he was just as proud of the “Flak” spoke, which he believed was confusing with surrounding mask mandates and lifting lockdown measures sooner than even Trump wanted.

Some Republicans there said Trump should drop out of the race even though they voted for him twice.

“It angers me,” said Terry Goodger, 81, a Republican district commissioner who supports Kemp and accused the former president of “causing a split in the Republican Party by supporting someone else.”

“I was really proud that Brian Kemp stood up for what was right,” said Lee Underwood, 74, a retired farm systems worker who said he voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020 but would never do it again.

In Douglas, Becky Metts, the county’s local GOP treasurer, who was one of only a handful of voters to visit Perdue last Saturday, said she “probably” supports Perdue because of Trump’s support.

But she, too, had kind words for Kemp.

“He did a good job,” she said, “especially in business.”

Jess Bidgood can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @jessbidgood.