News, Politics

Former Democrat Vernon Jones, A Vocal Trump Supporter, To Challenge Kemp In GOP Primary

Vernon Jones, a former Democratic state representative and vocal Trump supporter, announced his plans to challenge Gov. Brian Kemp in the 2022 Republican primary near the Georgia Capitol on Friday.
Vernon Jones, a former Democratic state representative and vocal Trump supporter, announced his plans to challenge Gov. Brian Kemp in the 2022 Republican primary near the Georgia Capitol on Friday.
Credit Emma Hurt / WABE
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Updated at 2:03 p.m. Friday

Former Democratic state Rep. Vernon Jones announced Friday he plans to challenge Gov. Brian Kemp in the 2022 Republican primary for governor.

Jones, a former CEO of DeKalb County, switched parties earlier this year after endorsing former President Donald Trump and becoming a vocal Trump supporter. He became a fixture on the Trump campaign trail, often repeating false claims of voter fraud about the election.

Jones did not answer whether he believes Trump will endorse his candidacy.

“One thing about Donald Trump and Vernon Jones, we understand each other,” he said.

Trump pledged to campaign against Kemp, who fell out of favor with the former president after he refused to overturn the state’s 2020 presidential election.

Speaking to a few dozen supporters in the shadow of the Georgia state Capitol, Jones pitched himself as an alternative to the typical Republican and Democratic platforms.

Speaking to a few dozen supporters Friday in the shadow of the Georgia state Capitol, Vernon Jones pitched himself as an alternative to the typical Republican and Democratic platforms. (Emma Hurt/WABE)
Speaking to a few dozen supporters Friday in the shadow of the Georgia state Capitol, Vernon Jones pitched himself as an alternative to the typical Republican and Democratic platforms. (Emma Hurt/WABE)

“I’ve come home to the Grand Old Party, bringing grand new ideas, grand new people and grand new opportunities,” Jones said.

“Those of you who feel you have been not listened to, those of you who feel frustration, I feel your pain. For those of you who feel your voices weren’t heard, for those of you who feel the incumbent governor didn’t fight for you, a new day has dawned.”

Jones enters the race after a bruising 2020 for Georgia Republicans, which saw a bloody intra-party fight between former Sen. Kelly Loeffler and former Congressman Doug Collins, a high-profile rift between Kemp and Trump, a former ally and supporter, and surprise losses in the presidential and Senate races, which many have blamed on Trump himself.

Jones blamed those losses on Kemp.

“[Kemp] cost us two Republican U.S. Senate seats and the president’s reelection,” he said.

“His failed leadership and unwillingness to fight election integrity left us Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and cryin’ Chuck Schumer cramming their legal or, I should say, their liberal and their socialist policies down our throats.”

“Vernon Jones is a lifelong Democrat, voted for Barack Obama, supported gun control, and voted against Georgia’s heartbeat bill. He is not a Republican, and he certainly is not a conservative,” responded Bobby Saparow, Kemp’s campaign manager.

“Assuming he actually stays in the race, we look forward to contrasting Gov. Kemp’s successful conservative record with Vernon Jones’ liberal, corrupt tenure in public life,” Saparow said.

Jones sought to set himself apart from a standard Republican image, arguing, “young people’s issues have not been addressed by the Republican Party.”

“One of the things young people care about is the environment,” he said. “They care about our natural resources. Georgia, if not careful, it will lose much of that.”

And while Republicans in the state have tried to unify behind its new controversial voting law after the 2020 losses, Jones criticized Kemp for “posing in front of a picture of a plantation in a locked-room signing, something that all Georgians will benefit from or maybe not benefit from.”

Trump, too, has called out the law, which the Republican caucus of the Georgia General Assembly unanimously supported, as “far too weak and soft to ensure real ballot integrity.”

The qualification deadline for Georgia’s 2022 statewide election is not until next March.