Georgia’s Secretary of State Brian Kemp addressed a crowd of nearly 100 College Republicans (CRs) last Wednesday, September 2nd. This was not the first time that Secretary Kemp has embraced the opportunity to visit the group. In 2002, Kemp ran for State Senate District 46, which represents most of the Athens area. He credits a large part of this success to the CRs, and they have been vital to his campaigns ever since. Kemp was elected to his current position as Secretary of State in 2010, then re-elected in 2014.
Secretary Kemp has made a name for himself in the past year by successfully creating the SEC (Southeastern Conference — for those of you who don’t know football) Primary. The SEC Primary gathers several southern states — including Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee, among others — to hold their party presidential primaries on the same day. This year, the SEC Primary will take place on March 1, 2016.
On Wednesday, Kemp was not far from the truth when he claimed that having the SEC Primary take off “is unprecedented for our state.”
Historically, Georgia votes after several primaries have already occurred, revealing clear frontrunners before our state has had a say in the race. Presidential candidates rarely come to the Peach State, except for the occasional pit stop on the way to a swing state or for a fundraiser in Atlanta.
Yet now that the primary date has changed and Georgia is the SEC Primary state with the most delegates, candidates are taking notice. Kemp pointed out that the recent Georgia Republican State Convention had three presidential candidates as guest speakers: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Since then, the majority of prominent presidential candidates have hosted events across the state and spoken at everything from barbecues to Sunday church services.
The Red State Gathering held by Erick Erickson in August was proof that the SEC Primary has been drawing attention well. Presidential candidates and conservatives from across the country flocked to Atlanta to discuss who may be the next President of the United States, giving Kemp more publicity than almost any other state official at the time. He explained to the CRs, “Presidential candidates should know the great things we got in our state — like our military bases that are helping protect our country,…our fast growing port, the busiest airport, and a huge ag economy.”
The SEC Primary is not Kemp’s only focus, however. He, along with other Republican Party leaders, has a duty to protect the political establishment’s future. Tensions have been rising due to harsh Republican primary debates and disagreements among the conservative base, leaving it up to state officials to keep the party intact. Kemp reminded the College Republicans, “We all need to get behind that horse, whoever it is. You know if your horse doesn’t make it…you got to get off and get on the other wagon. We all got to ride that wagon to the Promised Land.”
Aside from the Republican candidates, Kemp did concede that watching Bernie Sanders (D) and Hillary Clinton (D) duke it out in the South, of all places, would be “amazing to watch.” Though that comment won him laughter and applause from the Republicans packing the room, there was still a serious tone in what he said. Encouraging party unification will be one of the greatest challenges facing any Republican elected official in 2016, whether here in Georgia or abroad.
Before he concluded his UGA address, Kemp focused on us, the young voters. He championed technological integration within the voter registration process. “If you do have your driver’s license, you can now just go on your phone. We got a free mobile app [called] Georgia Votes. We were the first state in the country to have online voter registration on the app as well as the My Voter Page,” Kemp explained. His enthusiasm for engaging a new age of technology represents a necessary step forward for Republicans. Secretary Kemp will without a doubt use this to his advantage when bringing out young people to support him in his next election.
Relishing the chance to be a leader among southeastern states, Secretary Brian Kemp has truly made landmark decisions regarding Georgia’s election environment that will impact the state for decades to come.
—Michael Duckett is a junior studying political science
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