Former President Donald Trump’s political operation is plowing cash into Georgia’s Republican gubernatorial primary — his organization’s first major financial investment in a midterm race and an indication that he’s willing to dig into his massive war chest to defeat his foes.
Trump’s Save America PAC has transferred $500,000 to a super PAC devoted to defeating Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, whom the former president has targeted over his refusal to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results. Those close to Trump’s political apparatus describe it as an initial cash infusion ahead of the May 24 primary, which pits Kemp against Trump-endorsed former Sen. David Perdue.
Trump is opening his account for another candidate for the first time since leaving the White House. The former president — who continues to capitalize on a deep well of small donor support — has stockpiled more than $110 million, making his committee one of the most well-funded organizations in politics. While Trump has cut small checks to favored candidates and spent money to stage rallies, he had yet to direct a sizable sum toward bolstering a particular contender.
The move underscores the importance — and urgency — of Georgia in Trump’s eyes. Kemp has a substantial polling lead over Perdue and has far outpaced his rival in fundraising, despite absorbing more than a year of attacks from the former president. Trump recruited Perdue into the primary and nudged out another candidate who threatened to cut into Perdue’s vote. The former president recently held a rally for Perdue, recorded a TV advertisement for him and hosted a fundraiser benefiting his campaign.
It is unclear where else Save America PAC will make significant investments, though Trump advisers say another top priority is unseating Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, a high-profile Trump nemesis. And Trump advisers declined to specify exactly how much they planned to spend ahead of the Georgia primary. The $500,000 infusion came as Kemp, Perdue and allies have already spent millions on TV this year.
“President Trump is committed to supporting his endorsed candidates across the nation, but we won’t be telegraphing our efforts to the media,” Trump spokesperson Taylor Budowich said in a statement.
Since receiving the donation from Save America PAC on March 25, the anti-Kemp Get Georgia Right super PAC began running a TV ad saying that Kemp “dismissed concerns about voter fraud in the 2020 election.” The ad argued that “if Kemp can’t beat voter fraud, he won’t beat [Democratic candidate] Stacey Abrams” in the November general election.
The commercial is running in the more conservative parts of the state, with an eye toward driving Trump supporters out to the polls for Perdue. The super PAC’s senior adviser is Gregg Phillips, a conservative activist whom Trump name-checked in a 2017 tweet after Phillips made the unfounded claim that 3 million votes were cast fraudulently in the 2016 election.
“President Trump has demonstrated a strong interest in making sure the truth emerges about what happened in Georgia. He has also stated that the best way to solve this problem is electing people who acknowledge it and are committed to improving election integrity,” said Jessica Freese, a Get Georgia Right spokesperson.
There is widespread concern about the Kemp-Perdue primary within Trump’s political orbit. Trump himself has privately expressed unease with Perdue’s standing in the race, and he has been non-committal about traveling to the state to hold another rally, according to two people familiar with the internal deliberations. Trump advisers say they are prepared to take other steps to bolster Perdue’s standing — including small-dollar fundraising, hosting a tele-town hall rally, and sending out Trump-recorded phone calls — before determining whether to hold another in-person campaign-style event.
Kemp has capitalized on his incumbency to establish a major financial advantage over Perdue. According to AdImpact, which tracks campaign advertising, through Tuesday Kemp and allied groups had spent or reserved $11.4 million worth of TV ads, compared to just $2.7 million for the pro-Perdue forces — a difference of more than 4-to-1. Kemp has benefited from the support of the deep-pocketed Republican Governors Association, which has been airing commercials touting his record as governor. The organization is expected to run ads for the duration of the contest.
Trump has appeared to acknowledge the challenge of defeating Kemp, saying during a recent appearance on a conservative radio show that “it’s always hard to beat a sitting governor.”
“It’s hard. It’s very hard to beat, because they have a lot of money behind them. You know, everybody is giving them money,” Trump added. “But we will see what happens.”
The Trump team is hoping to prevent Kemp from reaching 50 percent of the vote in the primary, which would force him into a June 21 runoff. Three other lesser-known Republicans will also be on the ballot on May 24, which could divide the vote.
Trump has a lot more riding on Georgia beyond the governor’s race. He’s endorsed a slate of primary candidates, including GOP Rep. Jody Hice, who is looking to unseat Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, another target of Trump’s derision because of Raffensperger’s refusal to indulge the former president’s complaints about the 2020 election.
Save America will likely need to invest a substantial sum to have an impact in the governor’s race, given the large amounts already being spent. But even if Trump blankets the airwaves for Perdue, there’s no guarantee it will be enough to defeat the governor, some Republicans say.
“Any Republican running in a competitive primary would want Trump’s support,” said Chip Lake, a veteran Georgia-based Republican strategist. “That being said, you still have to bring something else to the table that resonates with voters, and that’s where David is struggling.”