Brian Kemp
The Georgians First Leadership Committee, which is aligned with Gov. Brian Kemp, is key to Republican efforts in the state. Brynn Anderson/AP

Georgia’s Governor Is Doing What His Party Can’t

Gov. Brian Kemp’s funds will be more vital than ever.

With the Georgia GOP devoting its cash to legal bills, Gov. Brian Kemp’s considerable war chest could allow him to exert a stronger hold on the party despite his tense relationship with former President Donald Trump.

“Brian Kemp, in the state of Georgia, picks winners or losers,” said Georgia GOP Vice Chairman Brian Pritchard.

The Kemp-aligned Georgians First Leadership Committee has become a key GOP weapon in the state due to the Georgia Republican Party’s cash flow struggles. The party has paid over $1.3 million to cover legal fees for three defendants in the Fulton County election interference case. Georgians First remains flush with $3.7 million cash on hand, compared to the state party’s $396,244 as of Jan. 31 filings.

Former Sen. Kelly Loeffler, the founder of voter turnout organization Greater Georgia, will similarly use her vast resources to aid GOP efforts in the state. Both Loeffler and Kemp are filling a void left by the party, which has been limited in its ability to turn out voters, protect incumbents and boost candidates.

“There’s still work to be done to build and grow and nurture the Republican candidates and Republican officials,” Georgia political veteran Eric Tanenblatt told NOTUS. “And so, I think, whether it’s Sen. Loeffler and Greater Georgia or Gov. Kemp and his organization, I think they’re doing what the state party is not.”

The state party is closely aligned with Trump. However, Trump’s already uneasy relationship with Kemp deteriorated after the 2020 election. The two sparred over Sen. Johnny Isakson’s appointed Senate replacement in 2019, with Kemp appointing Loeffler over Trump’s preferred appointee, then-Rep. Doug Collins.

Trump urged former Sen. David Perdue to primary Kemp in 2022. Although some Georgia Republicans joined Trump in disdain for Kemp, the governor has remained hugely popular. He thumped Perdue by 52% in the primary and went on to win reelection.

Despite their differences, Kemp and Trump may be able to find a common goal: evicting Democrats from the White House. Though he declined to endorse, Kemp offered his tepid support for Trump, saying last week that “he’d be better than Joe Biden.”

Kemp’s focus is on protecting Republican majorities in the state legislature. Georgians First launched a six-figure campaign last year to defend six Republicans facing competitive general elections and pressure five Democrats in flippable seats, then contributed $175,000 to the campaigns of state lawmakers — minus a couple Kemp doesn’t like.

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Reports show Georgians First continues to rake in cash, receiving $6.7 million since the start of 2023 and $1.7 million in the most recent period.

Kemp’s influence hasn’t been exclusively wielded against Democrats. During the special election for state House District 125, his political machine bought ads targeting Trump-aligned social media influencer CJ Pearson, who filed a lawsuit against Kemp after the 2020 election. Kemp’s preferred candidate, Gary Richardson, easily won the seat with 60% of the vote.

As Kemp’s war chest fuels Republican spending, Loeffler’s Greater Georgia political organization has focused on grassroots infrastructure. The group, which Loeffler created to improve the GOP’s ground game after her 2021 defeat to Sen. Raphael Warnock, exists to register new voters and train volunteers.

Greater Georgia is seen as the GOP’s answer to Fair Fight, the fundraising and turnout powerhouse developed by former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. The organization’s efforts nearly defeated Kemp in 2018 and delivered Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats to the Democrats.

“We have to understand where those margins are for pickup, where the persuadable voters are, and if we’re reaching them,” Loeffler said last year. “Are they registered? Are they engaged? Are they voting? And then what can we do to persuade them?”

If the state party continues to limp on with legal bills, Kemp, Loeffler and others may continue shouldering the load.

“Politics is — people don’t agree on things,” said state party donor Todd Tibbetts. “But when a general election comes around, the Georgia Republican Party tends to go. Especially the last 20 years, 25 years, we tend to get everybody on the same page. We didn’t one time, and you know about that.”

Ben T.N. Mause is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.