By Gabby Orr, Melanie Zanona and Alex Rogers, CNN
Former President Donald Trump has offered Georgia Governor hopeful Vernon Jones his endorsement in a congressional contest if Jones agrees to quit the GOP primary for the governor to run for Congress instead, according to two people familiar with the matter, both of whom said Trump was behind the on-stage maneuvers are meant to bolster former Sen. David Perdue’s challenge to incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp.
It’s the latest sign of Trump meddling in the 2022 midterm races to help his favored candidates prevail over opponents who refused to accept his bogus claims about the 2020 election.
The former president endorsed Perdue shortly after the former senator launched his campaign in December and closely followed his performance in the primary against Kemp. Jones’ campaign failed to take off despite entering the primary early last April, leaving him behind Kemp and Perdue. Quinnipiac University’s latest race poll showed Jones with 10% support, while Kemp led Perdue by 7 percentage points – 43% to 36%.
Seeking to bridge the gap between Perdue and Kemp, the former president invited Jones to Mar-a-Lago last Wednesday to discuss a possible transition to campaigning for one of two congressional districts – the 6th or the 10th – where Trump and his aides believe Jones would fare better. Trump told Jones at that meeting that he was ready to endorse him in either primary as soon as he made the switch, sources told CNN.
People familiar with Jones’ thinking said he was leaning toward seeking the GOP nod in the 10th District, which is held by Republican Rep. Jody Hice, who is running for secretary of state. A Trump-backed candidate who embraced the former president’s false claims about the 2020 election, Hice is challenging Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in the statewide primary.
Hice told CNN he’s heard “rumblings” about Jones running for a House seat rather than pursuing his bid for the governor’s mansion.
The 6th District, where seven Republicans are fighting in the primary, is currently held by a Democrat, Representative Lucy McBath. Jones’ most formidable contender would likely be Jake Evans, a former chair of the Georgia Ethics Commission who is backed by the former Speaker of the House and Trump ally Newt Gingrich.
“If (Jones) enters the 6th District race with Trump’s full endorsement, he instantly becomes a favorite in the race. He burps Jake Evans,” said a Republican strategist based in Georgia.
Another Georgia Republican said Jones is “definitely going to run,” it’s just a matter of “where.”
A spokesperson for Jones could not immediately be reached for comment. A Trump spokesperson did not return a request for comment.
Jones changing the race would surely be welcomed by Perdue, which released its first ad on Tuesday featuring Trump attacking Kemp and reminding voters of the ex-president’s endorsement of Perdue. Trump falsely blamed Kemp for his loss in Georgia in 2020, saying in December that the governor “allowed massive voter fraud to occur.”
Kemp told Axios in January that he “never spoke ill of” Trump, but stood by his decision to certify his loss. Perdue said he would not have certified the 2020 election, even though state law requires the governor to do so. In January 2021, Perdue and fellow Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler narrowly lost to Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, moving the Senate to Democratic control.
Trump tried a similar move during the North Carolina Senate GOP primary late last year, when he privately encouraged former Rep. Mark Walker to drop out of the race and run for office. Chamber instead – offering his approval if he did. The move was intended to help Rep. Ted Budd, who despite Trump’s endorsement failed to become the clear frontrunner in the primary, which also includes former Gov. Pat McCrory.
In the end, Walker ignored Trump’s pleas. Last Thursday, he announced he would stay in the Senate race even though he was “excited to get all these endorsements and ask about the United States House.”
™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia company. All rights reserved.