A few dozen of Brian Kemp’s most diverse supporters gathered at his newly-expanded campaign headquarters Wednesday to launch his community inclusion coalition and pledge their support for his campaign for governor.
There was Bruce LeVell, a Dunwoody jeweler and former co-chair of Donald Trump’s diversity coalition. And Dan Israel, one of the most prominent Jewish Republicans. And Rey Martinez, the Loganville mayor who is the first Latino ever to lead a Gwinnett County city.
But another face also stood out: Allen Fox, the LGBT advocate who has long been one of the most vocal opponents of the “religious liberty” measure. He founded the Georgia Republicans for the Future organization to specifically fight what he’s described as discriminatory legislation.
Kemp has pledged to sign a version of the polarizing legislation if it reaches his desk, which conservatives say would protect people of faith from government intrusion and strengthen legal protections for opponents of gay marriage.
That puts Fox in a precarious spot of squaring his support for Kemp with his deep opposition to one of the candidate’s core campaign promises.
“It says a lot about Brian that he can bring people together on all sides. We aren’t going to agree on everything, but we can agree on his message to put Georgians first,” said Fox. “One thing I admire about Brian is that he states where he is on the issue and he says any type of discrimination is wrong.”
Kemp’s opponent, Democrat Stacey Abrams, has been an outspoken opponent of the legislation and at a Georgia Chamber of Commerce event Tuesday she drew ringing applause from business leaders for declaring that “no bill will cross my desk that makes it hard to do business in Georgia.”
Fox, though, sees in Kemp the potential to finally put the issue to rest. Even some past critics of the legislation could relent, he said, so long as the legislation mirrors the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act that was adopted in the 1990s with bipartisan support.
Gov. Nathan Deal, who nixed a version of the legislation that deviated from the federal statute, has also outlined a similar path forward.
“It’s time for us to move on. This has hobbled every legislative session for years. Brian has said exactly what he’ll sign: A federal RFRA version. And I think Brian would have vetoed the legislation that Deal vetoed.”
Here are some more takeaways from the event:
* Fresh off his Georgia Chamber address, the Wednesday event offered Kemp another attempt to try to reach out to a more centrist crowd by emphasizing his support from diverse communities. He rolled out his new favorite introduction, again calling himself a “tell-it-like-it-is business man.” Playing off his “keep chopping wood” mantra, he said the coalition members were like “lumberjacks” for his campaign who will represent him across the state.
* Pressed on his outreach to minorities who typically don’t vote for the GOP, Kemp stressed his business background. “I’ve worked with anyone you can imagine in construction, in agriculture, in anything else,” he said. “I’ve worked with a lot of people in construction who didn’t look like me, who didn’t talk like me, but had more money than me. And it taught me never to underestimate anyone.”
* LeVell said he’s taking some tactics he learned from working on Trump’s campaign and employing them in Georgia: “The same diversity coalition that helped put Trump in office will put Kemp in the Governor’s Mansion,” he said.
Other recent AJC coverage of the governor’s race: