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In Georgia, Kemp Plots Role as GOP Kingmaker
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In Georgia, Kemp Plots Role as GOP Kingmaker

Plus: Tim Scott to launch $6 million ad buy in Iowa and New Hampshire

Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks at a campaign event on September 27, 2022. Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

Happy Friday! We hope you’ve enjoyed Act I of the 2024 Republican presidential primaries—the field is expected to get a lot bigger next week, with official entrances into the race reportedly on tap for South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott on Monday and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday. The more the merrier!

Up to Speed

  • Tim Scott is expected to announce his presidential campaign on Monday at an event in his hometown of North Charleston, South Carolina. Scott notched one significant endorsement this week ahead of the event: Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota, who told the Washington Examiner Scott is “the closest to Ronald Reagan that you’re going to see.”
  • Ron DeSantis, meanwhile, is expected to file presidential campaign paperwork and meet with donors in Miami on Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal first reported, although a public kickoff event is not expected to take place until later in the month.
  • North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum is also likely to seek the Republican presidential nomination, CBS News reported Thursday. Burgum, a wealthy businessman before entering politics, founded a software company that grew into a billion-dollar business and was eventually acquired by Microsoft. The Dispatch confirmed the news Thursday with a GOP source who is familiar with Burgum’s plans. This source indicated the governor would invest a significant amount of his personal fortune in any White House bid. 
  • Disney announced this week it is canceling a $1 billion office relocation to Florida amid the company’s ongoing feud with Ron DeSantis. “Given the company’s financial straits, falling market cap and declining stock price, it is unsurprising that they would restructure their business operations and cancel unsuccessful ventures,” a DeSantis spokesman said.
  • The House Ethics Committee will continue its investigation into Rep. George Santos despite his recent federal criminal indictment for alleged fraud and money laundering, Punchbowl News reported Thursday. The committee has often stood aside to make way for the Justice Department when criminal charges enter the equation, but lawmakers say plenty of Santos’ alleged behavior merits investigation even beyond what the feds are looking into.
  • Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s long-awaited return to the Senate after a months-long bout of shingles has not quieted speculation that she is no longer fit to serve. The plainly frail senator has appeared disoriented and confused as she is carted to and from votes in a wheelchair, and even some longtime allies are beginning to say publicly that she should step down before her term is up in 2025—a position Feinstein continues to flatly reject.

Gov. Brian Kemp Beefs Up Georgia Ground Game Ahead of 2024

A federal super PAC aligned with Gov. Brian Kemp plans to oversee a robust voter turnout operation in Georgia for the eventual Republican presidential nominee, The Dispatch has learned.

The group, Hardworking Americans, Inc., is planning to deploy grassroots organizers, door knocking and other ground-game activities, as well as fund paid advertising, on behalf of the GOP’s 2024 nominee. A Kemp adviser emphasized the governor might also put his political machine to work for a candidate in the primary, which will take place March 12 of next year.

The ground-game plans are part of Kemp’s broader effort, dating back to last year’s midterm elections, to re-create the functions of the state Republican Party, which has attached itself to former President Donald Trump and struggled to fundraise in recent cycles. 

One early piece of Kemp’s effort is an August cattle call with Republican contenders the governor plans to co-host with Erick Erickson, a conservative commentator and talk radio host based in Georgia.

“We expect to have everyone except Trump, though Pence is working through a scheduling conflict,” Erickson told The Dispatch.

Advisers say Kemp maintains an open mind about who he’ll back in the presidential race, but that everyone in his inner circle is united in opposition to former President Donald Trump. The current frontrunner for the GOP nomination, Trump turned on Kemp after the governor declined to help him overturn President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory in the state. In 2022, Trump even backed a primary challenger to Kemp, former Sen. David Perdue.

But the governor shellacked Perdue in the primary by 52 percentage points, then went on to beat Democrat Stacey Abrams by 7.5 points in the general election. Following such a strong statewide performance in the last cycle, Kemp’s mission is to replicate it to help the 2024 presidential nominee.

Earlier this month, Kemp hosted a donor retreat in Sea Island, Georgia, where his team raked in more than $1.2 million dollars for his federal PAC and his state leadership committee, Georgians First Leadership Committee, which also plans to help down-ballot Republican candidates this cycle.

Advisers say Kemp’s 2024 candidate outreach and grassroots efforts will continue to center around three main pillars: telling voters what the GOP stands for, looking forward rather than backward, and winning. The governor focused on those three goals during a private Republican National Committee retreat in Nashville last year, when Kemp warned the audience that “not a single swing voter in a single swing state will vote for our nominee if they choose to talk about the 2020 election being stolen.”

Kemp has already said he is not running for president in 2024 and maintains his focus is centered on flipping Georgia red this presidential cycle, though his team concedes that “if hell freezes over” and he’s getting encouragement to run, he could change course. “Should it come to that, he would be open to having a conversation,” said Kevin McLaughlin, who is on the board of Kemp’s federal super PAC. “But I think as for right now, he loves the job he has.”

Since Georgia law limits governors to two terms, Kemp has been widely viewed as a possible Senate candidate in 2026, when first-term Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff is up for reelection. Some speculate he could also be a vice presidential contender next year.

“I can’t think of a better way to put himself in a position to give himself options—whatever those options may be politically—than to deliver Georgia whoever the nominee is for our party,” said Georgia-based GOP consultant Chip Lake.

Georgia observers point out that Kemp occupies a unique place in the GOP as a figure who stood up to the former president—notably in a fight he didn’t pick—and won his reelection, and boasts a spate of conservative legislative wins in Georgia, including passing a six-week abortion ban and a constitutional carry law.

They also tout Kemp as a politician who somehow figured out how to successfully thread the needle on election issues—both from Republicans who insist the governor should’ve overturned the 2020 presidential election results, and from Democrats who compared the Republican-passed Election Integrity Act to “Jim Crow 2.0,” even though the passage of that law preceded a Georgia midterm cycle with record voter turnout.  

Georgia GOP Chairman David Shafer, who has a prickly relationship with the governor after he implicitly aligned himself with Trump and Perdue last cycle, said he welcomes the governor’s ground game support ahead of 2024. “For too long the Republican Party has been in the field alone against a myriad of billionaire funded left wing groups,” Shafer said. “It is good to see other conservative organizations being created and funded.”

Asked about Kemp’s decision to skip out on next month’s state GOP convention, Shafer said: “We are sorry he will not be able to join us.”

Tim Scott Campaign to Buy Ads in Early Presidential States

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina has not formally entered the race for president, but his campaign will be placing a major ad buy in the coming days in the two earliest states of the Republican primary.

The Scott campaign will be purchasing $6 million of ads to run in both Iowa and New Hampshire starting next Wednesday, a person familiar with the plans told The Dispatch. The bulk of that buy, $5.5 million, is for TV and radio ads, with the remainder going to digital ads. The advertising will run through the first planned Republican primary debate, set to take place in Milwaukee this August.

It’s a significant investment for Scott, who is expected to launch a White House bid at a Monday event, which he is touting as a “major announcement,” in his hometown of North Charleston. The ad buy will come two days after this announcement and coincide with trips to those first-in-the-nation states, with Scott appearing in Sioux City, Iowa on May 24, and in the Manchester, New Hampshire, area on May 25. Scott will also appear with other candidates at an event in Iowa hosted by his GOP Senate colleague, Joni Ernst, on June 3.

The ad buy is a show of force for Scott, who is polling in the low single digits but will start off with a relatively big financial advantage. People with knowledge of his forthcoming campaign say the Palmetto State Republican will begin with around $22 million in cash on hand. Former President Donald Trump, for instance, reported his campaign had just under $14 million in cash at the end of the first quarter of 2023, while former U.N. ambassador and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley reported just $4 million.

“This campaign is built to win and has the resources and messenger to deliver a Republican nomination and ultimately the White House,” said one senior Scott official who requested anonymity to speak freely about a campaign that does not officially exist yet.

Scott has been a senator since 2013 after being appointed by Haley upon the resignation of Sen. Jim DeMint. He had previously served in the U.S. House of Representatives, the South Carolina House of Representatives, and the Charleston County Council. In 2014, Scott was elected to complete DeMint’s term, then ran successfully for a full six-year term in 2016, followed by another in 2022.

Eyes on the Trail

  • Youngkin presidential foxtrot continues: Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin stoked speculation that a 2024 bid remained in the offing when he tweeted a slick campaign-style video this week promoting a recent speech at the Ronald Reagan presidential library in California. But Youngkin senior adviser Dave Rexrode told The Dispatch the video was simply part of the governor’s effort to lead a Republican takeover of the Virginia Senate in this November’s off-year legislative elections. “Gov. Youngkin is 100 percent focused on Virginia as he has repeatedly made clear,” Rexrode said Thursday. 
  • It was supposed to be easy: National Democrats’ plan to rewire the presidential nominating calendar by making South Carolina’s primary go first next year continues to hit substantial roadblocks. New Hampshire state law requires that it hold the nation’s first primary, state Democrats don’t have the muscle in the legislature to change the law, and the state Democratic Party has refused point-blank to decouple its primary from the state-run process in order to bring it into compliance with DNC regulations. The situation, Politico reports, is leaving the Biden campaign in a no-win bind: Campaigning in the state would run afoul of the new nominating calendar the Democratic National Committee approved with Biden’s blessing, but not running would cede an early nominal primary win to one of Biden’s gadfly challengers, Marianne Williamson or Robert F. Kennedy Jr. 

Notable and Quotable

“People close to her joke privately that perhaps when Ms. Feinstein is dead, she will start to consider resigning.” 

—Annie Karni and Carl Hulse, “Feinstein Suffered More Complications From Illness Than Were Publicly Disclosed,” New York Times, May 18, 2023

Correction 5/19/23: The original version of this newsletter misspelled former Sen. David Perdue’s name on third reference.

Andrew Egger is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.

Audrey is a former reporter for The Dispatch.

Michael Warren is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was an on-air reporter at CNN and a senior writer at the Weekly Standard. When Mike is not reporting, writing, editing, and podcasting, he is probably spending time with his wife and three sons.