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Republican incumbent faces off against Trump's pick in Georgia governor race

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

And now we turn to Georgia, where the state is in its final day of primary voting. Georgia is one of the most consequential political battleground states in the country. And for Republicans, the most consequential race is for governor. Republican incumbent Brian Kemp is facing off against a candidate picked by former President Donald Trump.

To tell us more, we have WABE's Sam Gringlas in Atlanta. Hi, Sam.

SAM GRINGLAS, BYLINE: Hi, Sacha.

PFEIFFER: Sam, let's go right to that gubernatorial race, the GOP primary for governor. The incumbent, Brian Kemp, is trying to fend off former U.S. Senator David Perdue. Why does this primary matter so much?

GRINGLAS: Well, people are looking to Georgia for answers about the direction of the Republican Party. You've got a challenger in David Perdue, who Trump urged to run. The former president was furious with Trump for not helping him overturn the 2020 election (ph). And Perdue has taken up that mantle, baselessly insisting that the 2020 election was stolen. Trump has made endorsements in every race from Secretary of State down to insurance commissioner, so this primary may tell us at least a little bit about Trump's hold on the GOP.

PFEIFFER: And I gather that it's also going to show how entrenched the false election fraud claims are in the GOP.

GRINGLAS: You know, I have met Republican voters of all stripes at apple orchards, margarita stands, golf clubs, you name it. You have got people who deeply believe these election fraud claims. You have voters who think there was fraud but don't blame Kemp. And there are others who just want to move forward. Georgia's Republican Lieutenant Governor Jeff Duncan - he is in that last camp.

JEFF DUNCAN: At the beginning of the election cycle, it felt like, you know, Donald Trump was a freight train if he was against you. And now it really kind of feels like a matchbox car. Maybe it hurts your toe a little bit, but it doesn't knock you off your feet.

GRINGLAS: Kemp is an incumbent with the record that most conservative politicians would dream of, and despite Trump's opposition, it's looking like he might avoid a runoff with Perdue.

PFEIFFER: And, Sam, whoever wins this will advance to go up against Democrat Stacey Abrams. That's the next step, right?

GRINGLAS: Yep. If Kemp prevails tonight, that'll set up a rematch of their very tight 2018 campaign. Since then, more than a million new voters have registered in Georgia. But Democrats are also facing really strong political headwinds with inflation, the pandemic. I actually asked Abrams about that this morning, and she told me that demographic forces alone will not be enough to guarantee victory.

STACEY ABRAMS: We have new people coming to the rolls, but we also have voters who've been here who, for the first time, believe it matters if they cast their ballot. And my intention is to make certain they have a reason to show up and to vote for their future.

GRINGLAS: Abrams would be the first African American woman to be governor in this country. And one thing to watch is how gender and race play into this campaign. Just yesterday, David Perdue said that Abrams, quote, "demeans her own race." Abrams told me that Republicans are focusing on her because they're hiding from their own record.

PFEIFFER: Sam, what are you hearing about actual voting, the process itself?

GRINGLAS: The secretary of state's office says that Georgia is on its way to record turnout for a midterm primary election, and so far, no widespread problems have we heard about. But this is the biggest election since Georgia passed a sweeping election law in 2021, including new rules for absentee ballots and drop boxes. I chatted with a few voters today, too, and heard about abortion from so many, including Linnea Bavick, a physics grad student.

LINNEA BAVICK: It's kind of hard to say, like, I'm happy because of, like, how things are going right now with losing some rights that I, like, never thought we would lose. But I feel like Georgia is changing really fast and, like, people are more engaged politically, I guess.

GRINGLAS: Georgia is right in the throes of all of the big debates our democracy is grappling with right now, and that is not going to end tonight.

PFEIFFER: WABE'S Sam Gringlas in Atlanta, thank you.

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