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Trump Criticizes Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp Ahead Of Runoff Elections

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Republicans in Georgia have a problem. Two races there next month will determine who controls the Senate. President Trump will campaign in the state tomorrow, encouraging Republicans to vote. Except, he's also been telling Republicans, falsely, that their vote was stolen in the last election. And he's been attacking top Republican officials in Georgia, including Governor Brian Kemp, a close ally. Emma Hurt is with member station WABE in Atlanta, and she is reporting on this, and she joins us now. Hi there.

EMMA HURT, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So President Trump has actually been telling the governor to intervene in the election system and overrule the secretary of state. Let's be clear, he's trying to overturn the legitimate results of the election. Apart from being unethical, is it legal?

HURT: According to the governor's office, it's not because the secretary of state manages elections in Georgia, and he's an independently elected official. The governor can't intervene. It's kind of how it's designed. Trump supporters are also asking for a special legislative session to change the rules for January, which the governor has also said wouldn't be legal. He's given credence to some of the concerns with the election, but Kemp has said, you know, I'm bound by these laws. That apparently, though, hasn't been enough for the president, as you alluded to, who's been hammering Kemp on Twitter - he called him hapless. And just this week, some pro-Trump supporters at a rally chanted lock him up about Kemp.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. I mean, it seems like the president is shooting himself in the foot because President Trump and Kemp have had a very close relationship up to this point, right? And there is this, as we mentioned, very important election coming up.

HURT: Yeah, exactly. I mean, and it starts, this relationship, back with Kemp's Republican primary race in 2018. It was a runoff and President Trump tweeted an endorsement of Kemp, which was a huge deal for a president to get involved in that race. Kemp ended up winning the runoff by 40 points, and that endorsement is considered the reason it was such a blowout. And the president actually kind of took a trip down memory lane in Atlanta this fall talking about how he came to make that endorsement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And a man who ran in the primary who I got a call from - another great man, David Perdue. He said, could you do us a favor? There's a guy named Brian Kemp and he's running in a tough primary. He's got a tough opponent and do you think you could maybe endorse him? I love David Perdue. I said, who is he? I don't know him.

HURT: Months later, in 2018, Trump came to Georgia and joined Kemp for a massive rally in an airplane hangar.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRIAN KEMP: As you all know, the president's endorsement during the runoff was like pouring gasoline on a fire.

HURT: And the president sang Kemp's praises there, as he's done during basically every visit to Georgia since.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: And I'll tell you what - I know Brian. He will take it to new heights - heights that you wouldn't even believe. I know him. This guy doesn't stop, which is what you want.

HURT: But the relationship hit a tough spot last year when Kemp had the opportunity to appoint a new U.S. senator. The president wanted Kemp to appoint his own ally, Congressman Doug Collins, and Kemp didn't do that. He picked Kelly Loeffler, but he argued off the bat that she'd be a Trump ally, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEMP: And like our president, Kelly is ready to take on the status quo, the politically correct and the special interests. She knows that Washington is fundamentally broken. She knows that we need to drain the swamp.

HURT: The Kemp-Trump relationship seemed to recover as Loeffler established an 100% pro-Trump voting record. But fast-forward to Trump's loss in Georgia, and the governor and secretary of state have effectively become the president's punching bags. Here's Trump on Fox News last weekend.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: They had judges making deals and they had electoral officials making deals, like this character in Georgia who's a disaster. And the governor has done nothing. He's done absolutely nothing. I'm ashamed that I endorsed him.

HURT: At a rally north of Atlanta this week, a pro-Trump lawyer unaffiliated with the campaign who's challenging the results of the election, Lin Wood, called for Kemp to resign.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LIN WOOD: And as far as I'm concerned, lock him up.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Lock him up. Lock him up. Lock him up.

HURT: This is all very worrying for some Georgia Republicans, like former State Representative Buzz Brockway. He points out that besides the presidential race, Republicans did pretty well in November. The Senate candidates outperformed Democrats and Republicans held onto the General Assembly.

BUZZ BROCKWAY: It seems that that pretty good night for Republicans is turning into a nightmare where we're just, as a party, just ripping each other apart.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ripping each other apart, and that's just a month out from those Senate runoffs. How are the Republican candidates, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, responding?

HURT: So they've called on the secretary of state to resign but haven't provided evidence of why. And they also haven't come to the governor's defense in any public way, which is awkward because Kemp and Perdue and Loeffler are all tied up together. As I was saying, I mean, Perdue is the reason Trump endorsed Kemp, and Kemp is the reason Loeffler is a senator at all. But, I mean, they are all trying - Perdue, Loeffler and Kemp - trying to counter this narrative of, you know, not to vote in the runoff, saying we need you to vote even if there were problems in November.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sure. And so into all this, the president is coming to Georgia tomorrow. What exactly is he going to be saying?

HURT: Well, that's the big question on everyone's minds. You know, it could be the best of times, it could be the worst of times as I saw someone say on Twitter. He's continuing to say the election is rigged, but he wants people to vote in that very same system again in January. So everyone's watching to see how he threads that needle. There's been that movement not to vote in the runoffs that everyone is hoping he will strongly counter. And also, many in Georgia are just curious to see if the governor will show up. This is a tough spot for him. How's he going to handle it?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Member station reporter WABE's Emma Hurt in Atlanta, thank you so much.

HURT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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