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Fani Willis and judge presiding over Georgia Trump election case defeat challengers

ATLANTA (AP) — Two key players in the Georgia election interference case against former President Donald Trump have defeated challengers in Tuesday's election.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis arrives before she speaks after winning re-election in the primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

ATLANTA (AP) — Two key players in the Georgia election interference case against former President Donald Trump have defeated challengers in Tuesday's election.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee both won. Willis is the prosecutor who last year obtained a sprawling racketeering indictment against Trump and 18 others, and McAfee is the judge who was randomly assigned to preside over the case.

Willis beat progressive attorney Christian Wise Smith in the Democratic primary and is now set to face off against Republican Courtney Kramer in the fall. McAfee won a nonpartisan contest, which means he will serve a full four-year term beginning in January.

The intense public interest in the election case has thrust both Willis and McAfee into the national spotlight, giving them greater name recognition than occupants of their offices might otherwise have.

With her high name recognition, the advantages of incumbency and a hefty fundraising haul, Willis’ victory in the primary was not terribly surprising. As she moves on to the general election, the odds would seem to be in Willis’ favor as well. Fulton County includes most of the city of Atlanta and is heavily Democratic, about 73% of its voters having cast ballots for President Joe Biden in the 2020 election.

Kramer, who has ties to some of Trump’s most prominent allies in Georgia and has drawn campaign contributions from both the county and state Republican parties, told reporters when she qualified to run that the Trump indictment prompted her to challenge Willis. In a post on the social platform X earlier this month, she wrote, “The future of Fulton and safety in our community should not be controlled by self-interested politicians who use their office for political law fare. It’s time for a change.”

McAfee has been on the bench since last year when Republican Gov. Brian Kemp appointed him to fill an empty seat. He has since become one of the most high-profile judges in Georgia since he was randomly assigned last year to preside over the election interference case. With the added advantages of incumbency, strong bipartisan backing from heavy hitters and an impressive fundraising haul, he was the likely favorite to win.

Willis and Smith both worked in the Fulton County district attorney’s office under then-District Attorney Paul Howard. They both challenged their former boss in the Democratic primary in 2020. Willis and Howard advanced to a runoff that she won, and she ran unopposed in the November general election that year.

Kramer ran unopposed in the Republican primary Tuesday and has already been focusing her attention on attacking Willis. A lawyer who interned in the Trump White House, she has ties to some of the former president's prominent allies in Georgia.

While the Trump election case and racketeering cases against well-known rappers have boosted Willis' public profile, her campaign has focused her efforts to reduce a staggering case backlog that existed when she took office, fight gang violence and catch at-risk youth before they get caught up in the criminal justice system.

In what even some of her closest allies have seen as a major misstep, she engaged in a romantic relationship with a special prosecutor she hired for the election case. Claims by defense attorneys in the case that the romance created a conflict of interest threatened to derail the prosecution.

McAfee ultimately ruled that it did not create a conflict of interest that should disqualify Willis, but he said she could only continue the case if the special prosecutor, Nathan Wade, stepped aside. Wade promptly left the case, but a defense appeal of McAfee's ruling is now pending before the Georgia Court of Appeals.

Wade was among those gathered at an event space in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood Tuesday evening to celebrate Willis' win.

In just over a year on the bench, the election case has made McAfee one of the more recognizable judges in Georgia. He previously worked as both a federal and a state prosecutor and as state inspector general. He was appointed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp to fill an empty seat and has been vigorously campaigning in recent weeks to win a full four-year term. His campaign has drawn support from a bipartisan slate of heavy hitters, including Kemp and former Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat.

Kate Brumback, The Associated Press

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