Vernon Jones

State Rep. Vernon Jones, D-Lithonia, crowd surfs at President Donald Trump's rally Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, in Macon, Ga.

Vernon Jones, a former Democratic state lawmaker and one of former President Donald Trump’s most vocal allies in Georgia, is the latest Republican to open a 2022 primary challenge against Gov. Brian Kemp.

A controversial figure, Jones served as DeKalb County CEO from 2001 to 2009 between terms in the state House of Representatives. He did not seek reelection last year after trumpeting support for Trump and drawing backlash from Georgia’s Democratic party, which he left to become a Republican.

He announced his gubernatorial campaign in a news conference Friday outside the state Capitol in Atlanta.

Jones’ candidacy marks a test for backers of the former president who lobbed claims of election fraud in the 2020 cycle, as well as for Kemp, who faced attacks from Trump and hardline conservatives for not moving to overturn the state’s election results that saw President Joe Biden by a narrow margin.

Kemp has sought to rebuild support among Georgia Republican voters by defending changes to mail-in and early voting laws that he signed last month, calling them necessary to bolster election integrity. Democrats and voting-rights advocates have slammed the changes as attempts at voter suppression.

Jones is the second Republican to open a primary challenge against Kemp after Appling County educator Kandiss Taylor launched her bid in February. He could face a slew of other primary contenders before likely battling his 2018 Democratic opponent Stacey Abrams in a rematch for governor.

Georgia’s candidate field for 2022 is taking shape early with several high-profile announcements in recent weeks, including Democratic state Sen. Jen Jordan’s run for state attorney general against the Republican incumbent, Chris Carr.

Republican Rep. Jody Hice of Greensboro has also launched a primary challenge against Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, as has former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle.

Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, has drawn two Republican challengers in his bid to hold the seat he won in historic fashion during the 2020 election cycle.

Republicans Latham Saddler, an Atlanta banking executive and U.S. Navy SEAL veteran, and Kelvin King, an Atlanta small-business owner in construction and U.S. Air Force veteran, announced their candidacies this week.

Democrats in Georgia are pushing to continue building momentum amid changing suburban demographics and strong grassroots efforts that saw the party win the state’s presidential election and the two Senate seats in the 2020 cycle.

Republicans are angling to lock in their current statewide seats and reverse 2020 losses such as Warnock’s seat and suburban Atlanta congressional districts that flipped for Democrats in recent years but could swing back to Republicans after redistricting this fall.

Republicans will be in charge of the redistricting process because they control both chambers in the General Assembly.

Also up for grabs statewide in 2022 will be Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan’s seat, though his office recently signaled he may not seek a second term. Contenders are likewise lining up to run for Georgia labor and insurance commissioners.

The upcoming primary elections are set for May 24, 2022, and the general elections set for Nov. 8, 2022.

Staff writer | Capitol Beat News Service

Beau Evans is a staff writer with the Capitol Beat News Service

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