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New Georgia GOP Chair Straddles Trump and Kemp on 2020 Election Question
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New Georgia GOP Chair Straddles Trump and Kemp on 2020 Election Question

Plus: Where is Doug Burgum?

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in Kennesaw, Georgia, on November 7, 2022. (Photo by Kevin D. Liles for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Happy Friday! Headline of the week award goes to the New York Times’ Elizabeth A. Harris: “What Alex Jones, Woody Allen and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Share.”

Up to Speed

  • Donald Trump’s lawyers requested an April 2026 trial date for special counsel Jack Smith’s indictment over the former president’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, according to court documents filed Thursday. That would be more than two years after federal prosecutors’ proposed January 2024 court date request. Trump also canceled a news conference scheduled for Monday in which he’d planned to release an election-related report, saying in a Thursday evening Truth Social post: “Rather than releasing the Report on the Rigged & Stolen Georgia 2020 Presidential Election on Monday, my lawyers would prefer putting this, I believe, Irrefutable & Overwhelming evidence of Election Fraud & Irregularities in formal Legal Filings.”
  • Think you had a bad day yesterday? The New York Times obtained hundreds of pages of debate advice posted online by Axiom Strategies, a political consulting outfit running a Ron DeSantis-aligned super PAC, before the Florida governor takes the stage in next week’s Republican debate in Milwaukee. From the Times story, here are the memo’s “four basic must-dos” for DeSantis during the debate, one of which includes defending the GOP frontrunner: “1. Attack Joe Biden and the media 3-5 times. 2. State GRD’s positive vision 2-3 times. 3. Hammer Vivek Ramaswamy in a response. 4. Defend Donald Trump in absentia in response to a Chris Christie attack.”
  • Republican presidential candidate Tim Scott is unveiling an $8 million ad buy in New Hampshire and Iowa for television, radio, and digital commercials, a robust spending effort to spread his message and name ID in the two crucial early states.
  • Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez’s approval ratings are tanking in New Jersey amid an ongoing federal investigation into whether a meat company gave Menendez and his wife unreported gifts in exchange for political influence. Here’s a new polling readout from Monmouth University released on Thursday: “Menendez receives a negative 35% approve and 44% disapprove rating from all New Jersey adults and a 36% approve and 45% disapprove rating from registered voters. This marks a reversal from last year (44% approve and 39% disapprove among voters in April 2022).”

Georgia GOP Chairman Doesn’t Back Kemp on 2020 Election Dispute

As Georgia’s 2020 presidential election results again become a point of Republican infighting, the newly elected chairman of the state GOP isn’t siding with Gov. Brian Kemp in saying the contest was legitimate.

Earlier this week Kemp rebuked former President Donald Trump, who yet again made unsubstantiated claims that the 2020 contest in Georgia was criminally “rigged” in favor of now-President Joe Biden. “The 2020 election in Georgia was not stolen,” Kemp responded in a viral post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

In a subsequent interview with The Dispatch, Georgia Republican Party Chairman Josh McKoon wouldn’t back Kemp’s position. Asked twice by The Dispatch whether he thinks Trump’s claims or Kemp’s claims are correct, McKoon dodged. “The certified result is what the certified result was,” he says.

McKoon argues “procedural irregularities” in 2020 cast doubt on Georgia’s election results, even after multiple court challenges failed to change the results and multiple recounts certified Biden’s statewide victory.

However, McKoon emphasizes he is cautiously optimistic the Georgia Republican Party and Kemp can work together in 2024 after a rift between the governor and McKoon’s predecessor, David Shafer, a Trump acolyte, kept both at arm’s length in the 2022 midterm elections. “The fact is the 2020 election is over,” McKoon says. “And the focus of the Georgia Republican Party is on winning the 2024 election.”

McKoon’s backward-and-forward-looking answer comes on the heels of a Fulton County district attorney’s indictment earlier this week of Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results in Georgia. Among Trump’s 18 co-defendants in that case is Shafer, who aligned himself with Kemp’s Trump-backed primary challenger, former Sen. David Perdue, in the 2022 gubernatorial primary. 

The governor was booed onstage at the Georgia GOP convention in 2021 and declined to attend this year’s convention in June in opposition to then-Chairman Shafer, one of Georgia’s 11 alternate electors in the 2020 election. “I didn’t boycott the convention, I just didn’t go because the chairman, as you know, was working against the whole statewide ticket last year and I wasn’t going to go and support an event that he was in charge of,” Kemp told a local news outlet this summer.

Are the tides changing under McKoon’s leadership? 

“I don’t want to get into specifics of private communication with the governor, but I will say that the relationship going in was very friendly” and “continues to be so,” says McKoon, who has known Kemp since McKoon’s time in the state legislature. “I’m certainly hopeful that we will have an event that the governor is able to attend.”

Kemp adviser Cody Hall doesn’t dispute McKoon’s framing. “The governor and Joshua have known each other a long time and have a good relationship,” he says.

But Republican consultants in Georgia say the two can like each other personally without gelling in their official capacities, and that a cordial relationship with McKoon doesn’t mean Kemp will wrap his arms around a state party that is still very much attached to the former president and the activist wing of the state party. 

McKoon’s olive branch comes as Kemp’s federal super PAC, Hardworking Americans Inc., prepares to deploy a robust ground game on behalf of the eventual Republican nominee in 2024. As Dispatch Politics reported back in May, this effort will be complete with paid advertising, door knocking, and grassroots organizing. 

Kemp also plans to host a donor retreat in Georgia in November, The Dispatch has learned, similar in style to the Sea Island retreat he hosted in May that raked in $1.2 million for his federal super PAC and state leadership committee, Georgians First.

The governor is co-hosting a cattle call for Republican presidential contenders this weekend alongside Erick Erickson, a conservative commentator and talk radio host based in Georgia. Kemp plans to speak onstage at the event Friday and possibly Saturday as well, his adviser confirms. Trump was not invited to speak at the event.

“If the Georgia Republican Party wants to be relevant, it needs to be supportive of and aligned with the most popular Republican in the state and the head of the Republican Party of the state of Georgia in the form of Brian Kemp,” says former Georgia GOP Chairman John Watson.

Is Doug Burgum Campaigning Enough?

Where’s Doug Burgum?

The wealthy, self-made North Dakota governor earned a fortune as executive of a software firm before entering politics. He can afford to plant himself in Iowa and New Hampshire and assiduously court likely caucusgoers and primary voters, respectively. But veteran Republican operatives in both early battlegrounds say Burgum has kept a lighter schedule than they expected—especially for a candidate who entered the race for the GOP presidential nomination a virtual unknown and is languishing in the low single digits in most polls.

“It’s baffling. He hasn’t been here much, but has a good team. People are—maybe, were—open to him, but he has to be here more,” an unaffiliated Republican strategist in Iowa tells The Dispatch. “As a billionaire neighborhood governor, it defies logic why he wouldn’t be here more.” 

“For someone who could do pretty well in New Hampshire with some effort, Doug Burgum isn’t doing much so far beyond paid media,” adds an unaffiliated Republican strategist in the Granite State. “He’s had relatively few visits and so far, no prominent public support. He needs to really pick up the pace here after the debate, or he may never get off the ground.”

The Burgum campaign, emphasizing the candidate has a day job running the state of North Dakota—a responsibility many of his competitors do not share—rejects this characterization of his attendance record on the trail. 

“Doug’s spent 19 days in Iowa and New Hampshire since launching his campaign a little more than two months ago and will be in New Hampshire another five days before the end of the month,” spokesman Lance Trover says. “He’s already passed candidates who entered the race months before him because of his focus on the economy, energy and national security as well as his small-town background resonates with voters.”

(Also, the governor tells Politico’s “Playbook” newsletter he is not and “never was” a billionaire.)

Time in the early primary states is not a prerequisite for success. 

Former President Donald Trump, the overwhelming frontrunner for the Republican nomination, has spent little time in Iowa and New Hampshire thus far. Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and ex-U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has waged a vigorous campaign on the ground since entering the race in mid-February and is looking for a breakthrough. Indeed, Haley lags Burgum by a whisker in New Hampshire polling averages, although she outpaces him in Iowa.

But with Burgum, 67, registering 0.3 percent in national polling averages, 2.3 percent in Iowa, and 5 percent in New Hampshire, Republican insiders say the governor has to step up his presence in the the states that vote first and second if he’s going to contend. And media outlets tracking the candidates’ movements show the governor has been less ubiquitous in Iowa and New Hampshire than other underdogs. 

Burgum did not begin spending much time in either state until after the June 7 launch of his presidential bid, putting him behind candidates who either announced earlier in the year or who made several visits prior to announcing their campaigns. According to tracking from FiveThirtyEight, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy led the pack with 19 days spent in Iowa and 15 days spent in New Hampshire from January 1 through July 19. Haley was next at 14 and 13, respectively.

Burgum? He was at the bottom of this list, having spent three days in Iowa during that time and four days in New Hampshire. Since then the governor is more competitive according to this measurement of his campaign schedule. Yet he is still behind other candidates.

According to the Des Moines Register, from early June through this week, Burgum has spent 10 days in Iowa, making 18 campaign stops. Ramaswamy has spent 13 days in the Hawkeye State and made 20 stops. Asa Hutchinson, the former Arkansas governor, has spent 16 days in the state since early June, while making 23 campaign stops. 

Even Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, considered a top contender, has been nearly as present in Iowa as Burgum, spending 10 days there since May 30 and making 17 stops. Meanwhile, it’s a similar story in the Granite State. According to a compilation of campaign activity from the New Hampshire Journal, Burgum has spent four days in state and made five campaign stops since early June, although as Trover points out, the governor plans to spend five days in New Hampshire at month’s end.

Meanwhile, DeSantis has spent seven days there, and logged 11 campaign stops; former Vice President Mike Pence has spent six days and made nine stops, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has spent four days and made eight stops.

Notable and Quotable

“We’ve been protecting South Dakota from Canada for 134 years, and we never get any credit for that, ever.”

—North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum speaking with the Politico Playbook Deep Dive Podcast on August 18

Correction: this post originally said Kemp hosted a donor retreat back in March. The retreat occurred in May.

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.