National Republicans are now desperate for Mr. Kemp to help Mr. Walker win over a chunk of those split-ticket voters. Originally, the governor accepted this mission when it still looked as though control of the Senate might once again rest with Georgia. But even after Democrats secured 50 seats, he was happy to go the extra mile for the team.
It’s all upside for Mr. Kemp. No one will seriously blame him if he can’t rescue a candidate as lousy as Mr. Walker, and he wins friends and influence within the party simply by trying. He also gets to wallow in his status as a separate, non-Trumpian power center. After all the abuse he has taken from Mr. Trump, the governor must on some level relish being asked to salvage the former president’s handpicked dud — even as the party made clear it did not want Mr. Trump anywhere near the Peach State this time. And if Mr. Kemp somehow manages to drag Mr. Walker to victory, clawing back one of the two Georgia Senate seats Mr. Trump helped cost the party last year, it will be an ostrich-size feather in his already heavily plumed cap — not to mention a fat thumb in Mr. Trump’s eye.
Mr. Kemp clearly has his sights set on the political road ahead. National Republicans were impressed by how thoroughly he decimated his Trump-orchestrated primary challenge in the governor’s race, ultimately stomping his chief opponent, former Senator David Perdue, by more than 50 points. Post-primary, Mr. McConnell hosted Mr. Kemp for a cozy breakfast in the Senate dining room. In early September, Mr. McConnell was a “special guest” at a Kemp fund-raiser in Washington that touted another 16 Republican senators as “featured guests.”
Mr. Kemp’s work on behalf of Mr. Walker is opening even more doors, helping him forge connections with officials, operatives and donors well beyond Georgia. All of which will come in handy if, say, Mr. Kemp decides he wants to run for federal office one day.
And it sure looks as though he might. Not long before Thanksgiving, he filed the paperwork to form a federal super PAC. Named Hardworking Americans Inc., the organization will help him gain influence — having a pool of political cash tends to raise one’s popularity — and possibly pave his way for a federal campaign.
As it happens, Mr. Kemp’s second term ends in 2026, the same year that Jon Ossoff, Georgia’s other Democratic senator, is up for re-election. There is buzz around the state that this would be a logical next step for the governor — and that it is definitely on his mind.
Of course, 2026 is four eternities away in political terms. But Mr. Kemp has distinguished himself as his own man, having won on his terms in a party increasingly anxious about the former president’s influence. For those who see Mr. Trump as the G.O.P.’s past, Mr. Kemp may look appealingly like its future.