NEW YORK (AP) — Former Vice President Mike Pence will campaign with Republican incumbent Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp the day before this month’s GOP primary in his most significant political break with the former President Donald Trump to date.
Kemp’s campaign announced Friday morning that Pence will headline a rally to get out of the vote for Kemp on Monday, May 23, the day before the vote. That puts Pence in direct conflict with Trump-endorsed nominee David Perdue, who is trailing in the polls. Kemp is one of Trump’s top targets this election cycle due to his refusal to cooperate with Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.
“Brian Kemp is my friend, a man devoted to faith, family and the people of Georgia,” Pence said in a statement. “I am proud to offer my full support for four more years to Brian Kemp as governor of the great state of Georgia!”
The news comes as Pence has taken steps to distance himself from Trump as the former congressman and Indiana governor eyes a 2024 presidential race that could put him in direct competition with his former boss.
This has included calling Trump by name. In February, Pence said Trump was “wrong” to insist that Pence had the power to unilaterally overturn the 2020 election results — a power that vice presidents do not possess. In a separate speech to top Republican donors, Pence urged the GOP to overrule Trump’s 2020 election grievances and said there was “no place in this party for apologists” for Vladimir Putin after that Trump hailed the Russian leader’s maneuvers as “genius” ahead of his brutal invasion of Ukraine.
“Elections are about the future,” Pence said in March. “My fellow Republicans, we can only win if we are united around an optimistic vision of the future based on our highest values. We cannot win by fighting the battles of yesterday or by challenging the past.
A Trump spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Pence’s plans. But Trump this week called a trio of current and former Republican governors, including New Jersey’s Chris Christie, “RINOs” — or “Republicans in name only” — for backing Kemp. “That tells you everything you need to know about what you’re getting in Georgia – just a continuation of bad elections and a real RINO if you vote for Brian Kemp,” Trump said.
“Maybe the ‘R’ in RINO really stands for re-elected,” Christie joked.
The race in Georgia is a gamble for Trump, who notched a major victory in Ohio earlier this month when JD Vance, the candidate he endorsed, came from behind to win a competitive GOP primary in the Senate. But last week, his pick for Nebraska governor, Charles Herbster, lost his primary amid fumbling allegations. And Trump faces more challenges ahead, including in Pennsylvania next week, where his Senate pick, famed heart surgeon Mehmet Oz, is locked in a tight three-way race.
Kemp had been significantly ahead of Perdue in the March and April polls, and many expect Kemp to win without a runoff in June, which would be triggered if no candidate wins a majority of votes.
Perdue, a former senator, also fell behind in fundraising and had about $900,000 in cash on April 30, less than a month before the May 24 primary, while Kemp had 10.7 millions of dollars.
The winner will face Democrat Stacey Abrams, who has already raised more than $20 million and had $8 million in cash on April 30.