ATLANTA - Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp officially launched his 2022 campaign Tuesday.
The campaign sent out a press release naming Kemp's campaign staff and his "grassroots leaders" in each of the state's 159 counties.
"Brian Kemp has a strong, conservative record of fighting for life, standing up for law enforcement, cutting taxes, protecting lives and livelihoods against the COVID-19 pandemic, and defending election integrity," said Kemp's Campaign Manager Bobby Saparow in a statement.
The incumbent already has one challenger. Former state lawmaker and newly-minted Republican Vernon Jones announced his candidacy last month. Jones has publicly criticized Gov. Kemp for not doing enough to support former President Donald Trump after his defeat in Georgia in the 2020 race.
"Any time you have an incumbent, he's got some strength," said Phil Kent, a panelist on FOX 5's The Georgia Gang. "What's going to be interesting is to see what's going to happen with the man in Mar-a-Lago, former President Trump, because he's going to be a big factor in the Georgia GOP primary."
Kent said another "heavy-hitting Republican" could join the race in the coming weeks as the party prepares for the 2021 Georgia Republican Party State Convention June 4-5.
"So, yes, the governor is kicking off fundraising. He's got a strong campaign team, but you're going to see, I think, another candidate coming into the gubernatorial primary. You'll probably see a very robust Republican primary down the line," Kent explained. "I don't know if the rift with Gov. Kemp can be repaired with Donald Trump. I think he'll be backing a candidate against Kemp, but should the governor win the nomination, I think a lot of people, including his advisors will be asking the former President, hey, we've got to stop the Democrats. We've got to take out the threat from the Democrats. So, it's going to be interesting to see what unfolds, especially in the next few weeks."
Democrats also responded to Gov. Kemp's campaign announcement.
"Brian Kemp has done nothing but take Georgia backwards during his tenure as governor. From our state’s bungled COVID-19 response to the racist voter suppression law rammed through the legislature, Brian Kemp has put partisan politics ahead of the rights and wellbeing of working Georgians at every turn," said Congresswoman and Democratic Party of Georgia Chairwoman Nikema Williams.
"With members of his own party rebuking him and his approval ratings among voters shaky at best, Brian Kemp is standing on thin ice from left to right. While Kemp spends his re-election campaign trying to defend his awful record, Georgia Democrats will be reminding voters just how much he has failed our state. We look forward to sending him into early retirement in 2022 and electing a Democratic governor who will truly represent the people of Georgia."
Kemp's campaign team said they plan to hold a kick-off event later this summer.
Kemp beat Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams in 2018 after serving as Secretary of State. Abrams refused to concede the race, and instead promised to file a federal lawsuit over the way Georgia elections are run.
So far, Abrams has not signaled she intends to challenge Kemp but has forgone campaigns for national office while her organization, Fair Fight Action, worked to increase voter turnout in the 2020 General Election.
Kemp's relationship with Donald Trump
Kemp aligned with former President Donald Trump during his campaign. Trump later denounced Kemp, expressing regrets for endorsing him, after multiple recounts of the 2020 Presidential race in Georgia showed Trump lost the state, contributing to his defeat.
Local Republican party committees voted to condemn Gov. Brian Kemp, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger or both for not helping overturn Trump’s November defeat.
Kemp has never altered his support of Trump, however.
Kemp's tenure as governor
In 2019, Kemp signed into law House Bill 481, which bans most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is around six weeks of gestation. The law, nicknamed the "Heartbeat Bill," met opposition.
Kemp's approach to handling the COVID-19 pandemic was to open the state early in 2020 and trust Georgians with their own safety. Georgia was one of the earliest states to lift shelter in place orders and never instituted a statewide mask mandate. Kemp has vocally opposed "COVID-19 vaccine passports," though he has urged Georgians to get vaccinated.
Kemp has spent the last few months publicly defending reforms to Georgia elections that sparked controversy and prompted multiple lawsuits. Kemp has insisted the intent of the law is to make it easier for Georgians to vote and harder for people to cheat elections. The law's critics say the bill disenfranchises some voters and restricts voting compared to the 2020 election.
Kemp recently moved to end the state's participation in additional federal unemployment benefits, saying Georgia has a record number of jobs available.
The Kemp campaign said it will hold a kickoff event this summer.
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