SMYRNA, Ga. (AP) – Fresh off his commanding reelection, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Saturday played the role of dutiful Republican soldier as he campaigned for the ﬁrst time alongside Senate hopeful Herschel Walker after spending months steering clear of his ticket-mate.
The joint appearance reflects how important Kemp’s broad coalition will be in determining whether Walker can unseat Sen. Raphael Warnock in a Dec. 6 runoff. The fact it occurred only now underscores the challenges that Walker, a celebrity athlete turned politician, has had appealing to many independents and moderate Republicans amid an intense focus on his rocky past.
“We cannot rest on our laurels, everyone,” Kemp told a few hundred supporters standing in the parking lot of a gun store in suburban Atlanta, urging them to cast one more ballot in a midterm election year that was underwhelming for Republicans nationally.
Kemp was the top vote-getter in Georgia’s general election, drawing 200,000 more votes in his matchup with Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams than Walker did in his challenge to Warnock.
The result: Kemp defeated Abrams by 7.5 percentage points, while Walker trailed Warnock by about 36,000 votes or almost 1 percentage point. Warnock fell just shy of a majority, however, triggering the fourweek runoff blitz.
The governor campaigned throughout the fall mostly for his own reelection, though he made appearances with several GOP nominees for lower statewide ofﬁces. All of them won without runoffs. The notable absence was always Walker, with Kemp sometimes avoiding even saying his name when reporters asked about the distance between the two campaigns. Kemp would often say only that he backed the “entire ticket.”
Since securing a second term, Kemp has become more explicit in his support, even if still calculated. He’s signed over his voter turnout operation to a Republican political action committee aligned with Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell and endorsed Walker anew in recent interviews. On Saturday, he pitched Walker as a ﬁscal and cultural conservative who would back tax cuts and support law enforcement and the military, and he repeated Republicans’ principal attack on Warnock: That he votes with President Joe Biden “96% of the time.” “I know that Herschel Walker will ﬁght for us,” Kemp said. “He will go and ﬁght for those values that we believe in here in our state.”
Yet Kemp also used his brief time on stage as a personal victory lap, nodding to his coming second term and mentioning Abrams before he said anything about Walker or Warnock. “I’ve never been more optimistic about the future of our state, and we’re going to keep our state moving in the right direction because we stopped Stacey and saved Georgia,” he said.