PERRY— For a one-term ex-president who survived two historic impeachments and failed in his White House reelection bid, Donald Trump still packs a wallop … at least in Georgia.

“To have a country again, you have to vote for only America First Republicans,” Trump told an audience conservatively estimated in the tens of thousands at the Georgia National Fairgrounds in Perry. “The world is eating our lunch and laughing at us, but when I was president the world respected us.”

Trump returned to Georgia for the first time since this past January’s U.S. Senate runoffs, appearing with several GOP candidates including UGA football legend Herschel Walker, who delivered his first major address as a U.S. Senate candidate.

Trump reiterated the core messages of his political career — deriding the current immigration crisis at the southern border, criticizing the leadership of top Democrats President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, support for law and border enforcement, and a strong economy.

“Joe Biden has thrown the border wide open and our country is being invaded by hundreds of thousands of people each month,” Trump said. “This is an invasion,” he said, followed by chants, “Build that wall! Build that wall!”

“Radical Democrats in Congress continue to push for mass immigration,” Trump said. “We’re living through the worst border crisis in a century.”

Trump called U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, the man Walker wants to defeat next year, a Democratic “far-left lunatic” who has to be defeated. 

“What qualifies me to run for this office?” Walker said. “What qualifies a reverend to run for office? What qualifies a farmer to run for office? I’m an American, and that’s what qualifies me to run for this office.”

Walker is running for the GOP nomination to face Warnock next fall.

“The people we elect to office shouldn’t be asked, do you love America? If you don’t love America, you shouldn’t be running for office. We have to be accountable for ourselves.”

Walker recounted his upbringing in Wrightsville, and a conversation with his mother when her manufacturing job was lost with her plant’s closure. 

“Let’s worry about the United States,” Walker said. “Let’s put people back to work. We can be compassionate but we have to the care of our people at home first.” 

Trump also reiterated claims that last fall’s election was ripe with fraud and irregularities, and said his campaign “never issued a concession.

“We did much better in 2020 than we did in 2016,” Trump said. “Our rallies were bigger and we delivered more votes.”

On Friday, hours before Trump’s rally, state Democrats tried to make the case that Trump should no longer be a force in GOP — or American — politics. 

“For Republicans, it’s Trump over everything, including working Georgians,” state Rep. Miriam Paris, D-Macon, said. “We want to make sure this return of Trumpism to Georgia doesn’t pose a threat to us in 2022. He received 75 million votes in America and did nothing but cause chaos and attack our elections.” 

“It’s Republicans who are keeping Trump in the headlines,” said state Rep. Teri Anulewicz, D-Smyrna. “There are GOP candidates who are doing everything they can to get on that stage with Trump and trying to get his blessing.” 

Republican gubernatorial hopeful Vernon Jones, who hopes to unseat Gov. Brian Kemp next year, said, “Georgia is a red state. We are going to fight for Donald Trump. The sky is blue today, but the ground is red. In 2022, we’re going to show we’re a red state, and in 2024 we’re going to show the nation Georgia is red.

“Donald Trump is the undisputed heavyweight champ of the Republican Party.” 

U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Greensboro, who is running to unseat current Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, said every decision made so far in the Biden administration has been against the interests of the American people.

Kemp and Raffensperger have drawn Trump’s ire for their refusal to overturn Georgia’s November 2020 election results. 

“It is time to give Brad the boot, and send him home,” said Hice. “He has destroyed election integrity in this state.”

Also appearing were state Sen. Burt Jones, R-Jackson, who is running for lieutenant governor. Incumbent Geoff Duncan is not seeking reelection.

“Eight months of Joe Biden, America is in full retreat,” said Georgia GOP chairman David Shafer. “The only thing progressive in Joe Biden’s administration is his dementia.”

Dr. Alveda King condemned Pelosi and House Democrats for their stances on abortion and said Trump was the most “pro-life president in history.”

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, drew cheers two and a half hours before Trump’s appearance, shaking hands while holding an “Impeach Biden” sign.

Chants of “Impeach Biden” also greeted Greene on stage. “Let’s talk about Democrats. They’re communists,” Greene said. “We need to close our borders. It’s time to say, Americans only.”

Trump has given indications he might seek the Republican White House nomination in 2024, after Joe Biden defeated the Republican incumbent in last November’s presidential election. Biden carried Georgia in an election in which Trump continues to allege voter fraud.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.