Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has already ruled out running for president in 2024, but he’s gearing up to be a crucial player in next year’s elections by raising millions of dollars for a pair of political action committees he will use to support Republican candidates at both the state and federal level.
Kemp gathered donors this week for a three-day retreat on Sea Island, Georgia, to plan for the 2024 campaign with a focus on the specific role of Georgia, a vital state for Republicans if they have any hope of winning the White House. According to a source familiar with the retreat, the event raised $1.2 million for Kemp’s committees.
The retreat comes as former President Donald Trump leads in the polls among 2024 GOP presidential candidates, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in second — but trailing — as he prepares to announce his campaign.
Kemp’s activities around 2024 raise his national profile and position him to be part of the mix for a gubernatorial alternative for president should DeSantis stumble. At the least, it positions him for a possible Senate run in 2026, since he will be barred from running for governor again because of state term limits.
Kemp’s private retreat featured a long list of Republican operatives and leaders who gave presentations on a wide range of topics connected to the next election. Speakers included former House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio; Karl Rove, former senior adviser to President George W. Bush; and former Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia.
During his remarks to the group, Kemp outlined what he believes the eventual GOP nominee must focus on for the party to be successful in 2024.
“First, we have to tell voters what we’re for. Second, focus on the future. And third, we have to be able to win a general election. Because we can’t score points if we don’t have the ball,” Kemp said, according to the source familiar with the retreat.
Kemp never mentioned Trump by name, but he warned Republicans that it will be difficult to win back the White House if the party continues to relitigate the 2020 election. He also has repeatedly said that electability should be a priority for GOP primary voters.
After the 2020 election, Trump was angry that Kemp did not do more to challenge the presidential results in Georgia, so much so that he recruited former Sen. David Perdue to challenge Kemp in the Republican primary for governor in 2022. Kemp soundly defeated Perdue, and then Stacey Abrams, to win re-election.
The retreat was put on by Kemp’s Hardworking Americans Inc., a federal super PAC he launched shortly after winning re-election last fall, and Georgia First Leadership Committee, his state leadership PAC.
Kevin McLaughlin, a GOP national strategist, is a board member for Hardworking Americans and attended the retreat. He said that while Kemp did not mention Trump, others in attendance did, and often when the former president’s name was raised, the topic tracked back to winning general elections.
“I think everyone was focusing on candidates who can win not only primaries but general elections, “ he said.
Some of the panels at the gathering, which ran from Sunday to Tuesday, were:
- A fireside chat Sunday night to kick off the retreat between Kemp and Boehner.
- A panel moderated by conservative radio host Erick Erickson, featuring Rove and conservative pollster Brent Buchanan looking at the trends emerging from the 2022 election and how they will affect 2024.
- A discussion with Kemp’s data guru Mark Stephenson, showing donors what the Kemp campaign did in 2022 to easily win what was expected to be a competitive rematch against Democrat Abrams.
- A policy discussion focused on national security and the global economy with a specific emphasis on China led by Loeffler, who lost a special election to Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. Loeffler was joined on the panel by former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Feith and Dave McCormick, who lost a Senate primary in Pennsylvania in 2022, but is thought to be a prized recruit to take on Democratic Sen. Bob Casey in 2024.
McCormick’s attendance was notable. He spoke about what the source familiar with the retreat described as his “battle plan for America” and was repeatedly encouraged to run for the Senate by those in attendance.
McLaughlin said that in his mind, Kemp’s track record would make him a prime candidate for president in 2024 — but the governor’s focus is mainly on delivering Georgia for Republicans.
“I think he certainly has every right to be in the conversation,” McLaughlin said. “But he wants to ensure that in Georgia there’s a bit of an equilibrium that is reset to where we think it should be.”
While Kemp has seemingly passed on the opportunity to run for president next year, his role as a popular governor in an important swing state puts him at or near the top of any list of potential vice-presidential candidates, and he could challenge Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff in 2026.
CORRECTION (May 9, 2023, 1:10 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misspelled the last name of a panel participant who lost a GOP Senate primary in Pennsylvania in 2020. He is Dave McCormick, not McCormack.