Georgia Republicans Anticipate Fierce Competition for 2026 Gubernatorial Race Amidst Speculation Over Succession Plans

Amid a relatively sparse 2024 electoral landscape in Georgia, dominated by the looming presidential election, the state’s Republican contingent has already shifted its focus towards the 2026 gubernatorial race, according to insights gleaned from political analysts by the Daily Caller News Foundation.

The 2026 gubernatorial speculation gained momentum as GOP Attorney General Chris Carr purportedly engaged in discussions this week, signaling his intentions to launch a bid for the coveted governorship. Within the state’s Republican circles, Carr’s purported overtures have ignited a flurry of conjecture and anticipation.

With the tenure of GOP Governor Brian Kemp constitutionally restricted, and the possibility of Kemp setting his sights on a Senate candidacy in 2026, a groundswell of anticipation is building among GOP strategists, insiders, and political pundits across Georgia. This sentiment is rooted in the anticipation that a multitude of ambitious Republican contenders will enthusiastically vie for the forthcoming vacancy in the gubernatorial arena.

“I think it’s just gonna be a total cluster in that primary, and everybody’s gonna get in that thing,” Jay Williams, a Republican consultant Georgia, told the DCNF.

The Republican consultants and political experts believe the GOP primary for governor will be highly competitive, with several contenders potentially being statewide elected officials with strong fundraising abilities. They argued the outcome of the 2024 presidential election will have a big impact on both the primary and the general in Georgia’s gubernatorial race.

Carr is laying the groundwork to run for governor in 2026, to shore up support and fundraising early, the Georgia experts told the DCNF.

“[Carr’s] just doing what’s got to be done in Georgia today,” a GOP consultant close to Carr told the DCNF. “To get too far into ‘25 is too late to find out that many people that you had on your list have already committed to somebody else. It’s too late to find out who is and isn’t going to be with you.”

The attorney general was first appointed in 2016 by then-Republican Gov. Nathan Deal after serving as commissioner of the Department of Economic Development. Carr won the attorney general race in 2018 by 2.6 points and in 2022 by 5.3 points, where he beat the candidate endorsed by former President Donald Trump in the primary.

Carr has focused his time in office on prosecuting criminals, fighting human trafficking and promoting election integrity, according to his website.

The attorney general is viewed in the more traditional lane of the party, and is not aligned with the former president, Dr. Charles Bullock, professor of political science at the University of Georgia and an American Enterprise Institute fellow, told the DCNF. Carr has “shallow support” across the state, according to Bullock, with a lack of “commitment to him as a person.”

Carr has good name recognition, has been elected statewide and has gone after “signature issues” as attorney general, according to Jason Shepherd, a prominent Republican operative in Georgia, who told the DCNF he’s a “frontrunner.” The attorney general’s profile, record and background make him a “very attractive candidate,” and are convincing factors that Carr could win in a general election, Jay Morgan, a GOP consultant in Georgia told the DCNF.

“When it comes to politics, Attorney General Carr is focused on helping Republicans win Georgia in 2024. But he certainly is having conversations about how we continue the success we’ve achieved in the Kemp years,” Heath Garrett, Carr’s political strategist, told the DCNF. “That requires a conservative leader with a strong record on public safety and job creation who can win in a highly competitive state.”

The political operatives all agreed one of Carr’s obstacles he’ll face in 2026 is fundraising, especially considering many other potential contenders will have the ability to self-fund. Because of this concern and others, Williams doesn’t think he could win in a primary.

“He just wants people to know that he’s running, he’s definitely trying to get ahead of Burt and all these other guys,” said Williams. “I don’t know that he’s got a good pathway, as far as who else is being talked about as running.”

Other GOP primary contenders that the experts said have been floated in Georgia are Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, former Sen. Kelly Loeffler, potentially some congressmen and any number of other state Republicans.

Jones is a businessman and former state senator who was endorsed by Trump in his 2022 campaign, where he beat the Democratic opposition by 5 points. The lieutenant governor was also an alleged fake elector for Trump in 2020, but a judge blocked Fulton County District Attorney Fanni Willis’ attempts to investigate Jones in the case, according to Georgia Public Radio.

Bullock argued if Jones receives the former president’s endorsement again, he will likely be at the front of the pack, but it remains to be seen how much weight such a backing will hold in 2026.

Raffensperger has risen to prominence following the 2020 presidential election when he stood up to Trump for questioning the validity of Georgia’s election results and asked for the secretary of state “to find” enough votes for him to secure a recount victory. He previously served as a state lawmaker before being elected twice as secretary of state.

Loeffler was first appointed to the Senate by Kemp when GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson resigned in 2019, but she narrowly lost her seat in the 2020 general election to current Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock by 2 points. Since leaving office, she founded conservative grassroots organization Greater Georgia Action in 2021.

Shepherd and the consultant close to Carr argued that if Kemp runs for Senate in 2026, Loeffler will run for governor, but if the governor doesn’t challenge Democratic Sen. John Ossoff, she will.

A spokesperson for Loeffler declined to comment on 2026, but argued the former senator remains heavily involved in Georgia politics.

While Morgan doesn’t expect there to be a clear frontrunner in the primary since it will be chock-full of formidable hopefuls, he told the DCNF it’s paramount that Republicans tap the right candidate who can go the distance in the general, citing trends of Georgia becoming more of a purple state.

Republicans have lost several critical Senate races over the last few cycles, giving both seats to the Democrats, and the state flipped blue for the first time in decades in the 2020 presidential election. All other statewide elected offices and both chambers of the state’s legislature are still held by the GOP.

The GOP operatives and political experts argued the 2024 presidential election will have serious implications on the gubernatorial race, for both the primary and the general.

“If you’re closely aligned with Trump, and certainly Burt Jones has made a point of doing that — visiting down at Mar-a-Lago multiple times — it has helped people at some point in the primaries, but it has certainly not been a guarantee that you’ll be able to broaden your base of support in a general election,” said Bullock. “Will Trump still have the same luster in 2026, especially if he loses the presidency either through the nomination process or in the general election in 2024?”

Shepherd echoed Bullock’s sentiment, and mentioned how the gubernatorial race will either fall under a new Republican president, or it will be the second midterm election of a Democratic administration. The presidential election will be an early indicator of the governor’s race, as Georgia is a decisive swing state, said the GOP consultant close to Carr.

“If Republicans can win Georgia in ’24 and deliver those electoral votes, it makes Georgia a little less appealing for the big dollar, bicoastal donors on the Democratic side to pour all of their political spending into Georgia the way they did for Stacey Abrams and Raphael Warnock,” said the consultant.

Stacy Abrams hasn’t ruled out a third run after losing twice to Kemp by 1.4 points in 2018 and nearly 8 points in 2022. The state experts expect many other Democrats to run, but Shepherd argued their party doesn’t have as deep of a bench as the Republicans.

Kemp, Jones, and Raffensperger did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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