How Trump and the 2020 race is weighing on Georgia Gov. Kemp in 2022 The tight relationship between Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and former President Trump crumbed after Kemp upheld the 2020 election results. Now, Trump has his staunch supporter challenging Kemp in 2022.

As the 2022 campaign kicks off in Georgia, 2020 casts a long shadow

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

2022 is just a few weeks away. Maybe it's already gotten to Georgia. Democrat Stacey Abrams has launched her campaign for governor. And this week, Former U.S. Senator David Perdue, a Republican, says he's going to challenge the current Republican governor, Brian Kemp, in the primary.

And this - as Sam Gringlas reports from member station WABE in Atlanta - makes it feel like the state's last election never really ended.

SAM GRINGLAS, BYLINE: When Brian Kemp first ran for governor in 2018, this campaign ad got lots of attention.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRIAN KEMP: I'm Brian Kemp. I'm so conservative...

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

KEMP: ...I blow up government spending.

GRINGLAS: He boasted about his conservative credentials.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEMP: I got a big truck...

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR SLAMMING)

KEMP: ...Just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take 'em home myself.

GRINGLAS: And he ran with the unbridled support of then-President Trump.

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DONALD TRUMP: The people of Georgia are going to elect Brian Kemp.

(CHEERING)

GRINGLAS: Four years later, Kemp is the incumbent up for reelection. Now...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Let me tell you, this guy is a disaster.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yes, he is.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Yelling indistinctly).

TRUMP: He's a disaster.

GRINGLAS: That's at a rally in Perry, Ga., this fall. And Trump had this to say about Democrat Stacey Abrams.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Of course, having her, I think, might be better than having your existing governor, if you want to know the truth.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Yelling indistinctly).

GRINGLAS: If you're Kemp - ouch. Trump has not only soured on the governor; he prodded Republican David Perdue to boot him from office. So what happened? - the 2020 election.

BRIAN ROBINSON: It will be the biggest issue in the primary. This is the dividing line.

GRINGLAS: Brian Robinson is a GOP strategist in Georgia. He says Kemp's big break with Trump came in the weeks after the 2020 election, as Trump pressured public officials in states where vote tallies were tight to overturn the results, citing bogus claims about widespread election fraud. While Kemp didn't debunk those claims entirely, that November, he ultimately refused to do what the president wanted.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEMP: As governor, I have a solemn responsibility to follow the law. And that is what I will continue to do.

GRINGLAS: Perdue, however, has gone all in on Trump's false claims about election integrity in 2020.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID PERDUE: Kemp came before the election. And the country is paying a price today.

GRINGLAS: Perdue said he would not have certified Georgia's election had he been the governor last year. And on Friday, he joined a lawsuit again challenging the result of Georgia's election. Here's Robinson again.

ROBINSON: David Perdue told us that that is what this is about. That is the nexus around which this campaign revolves.

GRINGLAS: A primary campaign for 2022, spurred by competing narratives about 2020.

ROBINSON: It is something that we're going to see around the country.

TAMMY GREER: It becomes not about whether or not they are conservative - because they are conservative Republicans. It is simply about whether or not you are, quote, unquote "with" the former president.

GRINGLAS: That's Tammy Greer. She's a political scientist at Clark Atlanta University. Greer says the intense focus on 2020 could muddy the waters for voters come November. If Kemp makes it to the general election, she wonders if some voters might see him simply as the guy who upheld the election results.

GREER: The current governor, following the law, could be viewed as a moderate, sensible Republican because of this one issue, rather than the totality of what has happened while he's in office.

GRINGLAS: One thing's clear, though. False claims about election integrity aren't just lingering. They're driving debates over the Republican Party's identity and are already animating the 2022 midterms.

That worries disinformation experts like Nina Jankowicz of the Wilson Center.

NINA JANKOWICZ: This is about the long-term health of our democratic system. And I worry that in 2070, we're still going to be thinking about 2020, and people are going to be wondering if the people counting the ballots can be trusted.

GRINGLAS: Robinson, the GOP strategist, says he thinks most people have already made up their minds about Trump's election fraud claims. And candidates like David Perdue are just capitalizing on it.

For NPR News, I'm Sam Gringlas in Atlanta.

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