ZACHARY: State of the state remains divided

DomeLight by Jim Zachary 

Gov. Brian Kemp failed to give the true state of the state in his Thursday State of the State Address. 

The state of our state is division. 

We are divided between urban and rural Georgia. 

South Georgia is divided from the rest of the state. 

We are divided along racial lines. 

Most notably we are divided by political party.

The chasm between Republican and Democrat, conservative and progressive, is ever widening. 

Consensus is little more than a vague memory. 

Perhaps most politically dangerous to Kemp himself is the division in his own party. Kemp, a very traditional, conservative Republican, does not enjoy the kind of unilateral support one would expect for a Republican incumbent in Georgia. 

He finds himself in a real uphill battle for reelection after falling out of the good graces of Trump loyalists. 

Drawing the ire of Donald Trump after he refused to help overturn the results of the presidential election tally in Georgia, Kemp has been forever branded, it seems, as a RINO, or Republican In Name Only. 

The real incongruity around that moniker is that it is Kemp who extols traditional Republican values and positions. In fact, Kemp is ultra conservative. He just refused to try and overturn Georgia's secure, and valid, election. Gov. Kemp agreed with the Georgia Secretary of State, with the courts, with two audits of the election, with two recounts and with the voters of Georgia. He just didn't agree with Trump and did not cry uncle when his arm was twisted. 

Enter former Sen. David Perdue.

Hand picked by Trump, Perdue presents a serious primary challenge. It not a forgone conclusion, however, that Perdue will be Kemp's most serious challenge with the popular Vernon Jones, former Democrat turned Republican, also throwing his hat into the race, along with other lesser-known Republicans.

The divide in the governor's race is not the only chasm in the state's GOP. Trump has also put his weight behind other challengers including his support for Sen. Burt Jones for lieutenant governor, Herschel Walker for U.S. Senate and U.S. Rep. Jody Hice for secretary of state. 

If Perdue and Jones spend months painting Kemp as a turncoat and if Kemp wins a primary runoff, will the most ardent Trump supporters dare to vote for him in the fall? If Perdue became the party's nominee, will traditional Raffensperger-Republicans cast a ballot for a man who has questioned the integrity of Georgia elections? 

While Georgia Republicans are obviously divided, the state's Democrats are notably united around gubernatorial hopeful Stacey Abrams and Sen. Raphael Warnock.

Kemp covered a lot of ground in the State of the State Address, the ground left uncovered was the Republican Primary, and that ground is full of political land mines that could hand Abrams and Warnock victories in the fall. 

If Republicans hope to hold on to power and also hope to regain a Senate seat, they must decide where their true loyalties lie, viz., with a person or with party, position and principle. 

Jim Zachary is the editor of The Valdosta Daily Times, CNHI's director of newsroom training and development and president emeritus of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. 

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