Influential Columbus Republican Rep. Richard Smith picks a side in GOP gubernatorial primary race

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COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — A Columbus Republican with a high profile under the Gold Dome in Atlanta has picked a side in the Georgia Republican gubernatorial race.

The sitting governor, Brian Kemp, is facing a primary challenge from former U.S. Senator David Perdue.

State Rep. Richard Smith is the most influential Chattahoochee Valley Republican. In an exclusive interview with News 3 Thursday, Smith said he will support Kemp.

The battle between two top Republicans – Perdue backed by President Trump and Kemp in the former president’s crosshairs – promises to divide the Georgia GOP.

But that did not stop Smith from taking a stand. He said this is about having the right person to fend off Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost to Kemp in 2018. Perdue was defeated earlier this year by Democrat Jon Ossoff, in a runoff for the U.S. Senate seat.

“Everybody said, are you going to support Perdue?” Smith told News 3 “I like Perdue. Like I said, I have voted for him every time he’s run. But I told Brian in August that I would support him. And I am not going to change. I will sink or rise in the boat with Kemp.”

Smith knows his endorsement could come with a price.

“I will lose some votes just because I will come out for the governor. The opposite could be true, too. If I came out for Perdue, I would lose some votes there. But I think this race is important enough that we need the right person in the job to run against Abrams.”

Kemp welcomed the support of one of Speaker House David Ralston’s top lieutenants.

“During my first three years as Governor, we’ve worked tirelessly alongside great conservatives in the General Assembly – like Rep. Richard Smith – to put hardworking Georgians first,” Kemp said in a statement from his campaign team. ” I’m proud to have the support of a great leader like Chairman Smith, and I look forward to continuing our work together to move our state forward and win in 2022.”

Smith is the first Republican member of our General Assembly delegation to pick a side in this Civil War. Sen. Randy Robertson and Rep. Vance Smith, both of Harris County with districts that include parts of Muscogee County, have said they are focusing their elections and will not be endorsing in the governor’s primary.

Richard Smith’s support of Kemp goes back to the summer, long before Perdue entered the race.

“Back in August, Gov. Kemp called and asked if I would endorse him. And I told him, yes,” Smith said. “Now, there are several reasons I am going in this direction. No. 1, he has a very challenging time as being governor during a pandemic. Now, I think he’s done an outstanding job in managing that pandemic because all of these other states are talking about the things the governors are going to do to sidestep the federal government and get away with challenging the feds. The only way we can challenge the feds is through the courts and the governor has implemented that.”

Smith said he knows this race has the potential to divide the state GOP.

“I have heard everything from a bloodbath to being interesting,” Smith said. “And it’s probably going to be somewhere in between there. I think it will be very contentious..”

Abrams is as much on Smith’s mind as the two he says Kemp has the best opportunity to stop her bid.

“Brian has defeated her once in the governor’s race,” Smith said. “And he has a track record to run on. He has done some things in the state, the economy is doing extremely well. When all these other states were closing down and doing all this other stuff, Georgia was opening up its economy. And Georgia’s economy has been thriving.”

Kemp has also been supportive of Columbus during his first three years in office, including help secure state funding for the new Mercer Medical School.

“Just one example is the Mercer Med School,” Smith said. “He was a very active supporter of that facility. And when you look at the impact that thing is going to have on Columbus, yeah, that’s the kind of thing we need.”

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