Former Georgia state legislator Vernon Jones formally launched his bid for governor on Friday, announcing he will take on Gov. Brian Kemp in the Republican primary through a campaign largely based around former President Donald Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud in the state.
Jones—who was a lifelong Democrat before this year—was beloved by President Donald Trump and his supporters during the 2020 campaign for disowning his party at the time and endorsing Trump for reelection.
Jones announced he was becoming a Republican on Jan. 6, 2021, informing a crowd of Trump supporters in Washington, D.C. before they stormed the U.S. Capitol.
In his announcement Friday, Jones named “election integrity” as his top priority—falsely saying Kemp cost “the president’s reelection.”
Jones is the first major candidate to announce a challenge to Kemp in 2022.
“It’s time for them to feel the Vern,” Jones said at the conclusion of his announcement Friday, apparently a direct play off the highly popular “feel the Bern” slogan adopted by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and his supporters during his presidential campaigns.
During the campaign, Jones frequently spoke at Trump’s rallies in the state, and even crowd surfed during an October rally. His entry into the race was largely expected, but he will likely be joined by other major candidates to take on Kemp in the Republican primary. Kemp and other top Georgia officials like Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) were targets of repeated Trump attacks after the election, after he claimed they allowed for widespread fraud and they refused to take part in an effort to overturn the election results. Trump has specifically suggested former U.S. Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) should run against Kemp. Kemp’s decision to sign a sweeping set of new voting restrictions into law has shored up his support among Republicans. A Morning Consult poll released this month found Kemp’s support at 74% among Republican voters—up 15 percentage points since he signed the voting bill.
Jones said the Republican Party needs to expand its outreach to young people by embracing environmental issues. He said those issues must be strongly considered in any economic development plans, noting Republican President Teddy Roosevelt was a noted conservationist.
What To Watch For
In addition to Kemp, Jones was already launching attacks at progressive stalwart Stacey Abrams, calling her “the wicked witch of the South.” Abrams narrowly lost to Kemp in 2018 and is widely rumored to make another run for the governorship in 2022.
The Jolt: What we know about Stacey Abrams in 2022 (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)