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Trump’s preferred candidate for governor of Georgia won the Republican
nomination Tuesday, setting the stage for a marquee November showdown
encapsulating the divisions that have deepened during his presidency.
of State Brian Kemp, an immigration hard-liner who won Trump’s support
less than a week before the vote, defeated Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in a
runoff that resonated loudly beyond the state’s borders. Kemp led Cagle
by more than 2 to 1 with most of the votes tallied.
had the momentum in this race, but those endorsements by the president
and the vice president poured gasoline on the fire,” Kemp said in his
Kemp advances to a showdown
against Democratic Party nominee Stacey Abrams, who, if she wins, will
be the first female African American governor of any state. The victory
by Kemp instantly turned the general election race into a sharp contrast
capturing the cultural, racial and political divides that have gripped
the country in the Trump era — all in a rapidly diversifying state.
victory served as the latest indication of Trump’s dominance in the
Republican Party. His endorsement has proved to be a valuable commodity
in primaries from the Deep South to the Northeast in recent months.
Georgia, however, Republicans were left to ponder whether Trump was
strengthening the party’s hand ahead of the November election or
weakening it. Kemp ran as a Trump-style conservative in a state where
the president only narrowly eclipsed the 50 percent mark in 2016. The
president’s move put him at odds with many Republican elected officials,
including outgoing Gov. Nathan Deal, who backed Cagle.
Cagle conceded the race to Kemp just 90 minutes after polls closed. “I committed to him my full, undivided support,” he said.
voters headed to the polls Tuesday morning, Trump reiterated his
choice, tweeting: “Today is the day to vote for Brian Kemp. Will be
great for Georgia, full Endorsement!”
The president first gave his political blessing to Kemp last Wednesday, backing the candidate running as a self-described “politically incorrect conservative.” Over
the weekend, Vice President Pence flew to the state to campaign for
Kemp, arguing that he would “bring the kind of leadership to the
statehouse that President Donald Trump has brought to the White House.”
White House imprimatur came as a blow to Cagle, the longtime favorite
for the nomination. He finished first in the May 22 primary, but his
edge faded in a contest that was shaped by embarrassing audio
recordings, accusations of “fake news” and Trump’s involvement.
he navigated his way through the crowded primary, with rivals tagging
him as the “establishment” candidate, Cagle made moves to appease the
right, including a fight to punish Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines for its criticism of the National Rifle Association, as well as support for a tax break for private schools in an effort to weaken another candidate for governor.
That became a genuine controversy in June, when conservative gubernatorial challenger Clay Tippins released a recording of Cagle admitting that he had backed the measure specifically to hurt a third candidate, Hunter Hill.
ain’t about public policy. It’s about . . . politics. There’s a group
that was getting ready to put $3 million behind Hunter Hill,” Cagle said
on the recording. “Is it bad public policy? Between you and me, it is.”
began to dip in the polls after that recording was aired; Hill would go
on to endorse Kemp as the candidate who “won’t sell public policy to
the highest bidder.” And Tippins wasn’t done, wounding Cagle again with
audio of the front-runner saying that Kemp was running to be the
“craziest” candidate in the race.
like Casey Cagle’s gotten like Hillary Clinton,” Kemp told reporters
this month. “I would ask all those crazies to vote Brian Kemp for
governor in the Republican runoff.”
eagerly waded into the culture wars in his campaign, running ads
bragging that liberals did not like it when he stood for the national
anthem or displayed his guns.
In perhaps his most famous spot,
released before the first round of voting, Kemp boasted about having a
big truck — “just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take
them home myself.”
Cagle fought back by
portraying himself as the true conservative in the race. In his final
attack ad, he accused Kemp, who has been secretary of state for eight
years, of “20 years of failure.” In another ad, Cagle was pictured
rallying a crowd of conservatives — a few wearing “Make America Great
Again” caps — against the negative stories.
tricks and fake news are what we’ve come to expect,” Cagle said. “I’ll
never apologize for outlawing sanctuary cities or for stopping liberals
from taking the values that make our country great.”
Republicans have held the governor’s mansion since 2003, with
legislative majorities that have made Democrats largely irrelevant in
state politics. But the smash-mouth nature of the contest has emboldened
Democrats, who think that the GOP’s race to the right will alienate the
suburban voters who are drifting away from the party in the Trump era.
race for #GAGov may change, but our values never will,” Abrams tweeted
after Kemp’s win. “Service, faith & family guide our vision for GA:
Affordable health care. Excellent public schools for every child. An
economy that works for all.”
Abrams has raised a
hefty $6 million for the race — nearly $3 million of it since winning
the primary. Trump’s 50.44 percent share of the vote in the 2016
election was the lowest for a Republican presidential nominee in two
decades. Democrats have increased their share of the vote since then in
A former minority leader of the Georgia House, she won the Democratic primary while surrounding herself with
leaders representing women, labor, the LGBT community and causes on the
left — predicting at one rally that a rising coalition of minorities
and liberal whites would “turn the state of Georgia, and the nation,
Georgia’s Hispanic population has
grown to nearly 10 percent of the state’s, according to a recent Census
Bureau estimate. African Americans are nearly a third of the state’s
Kemp and fellow Republicans on
Tuesday started accelerating efforts to tie Abrams to national
Democratic figures, including former presidential nominee Hillary
Clinton. Their strategy is in line with the GOP’s playbook in other
states that Trump won.
Further down the ballot
Tuesday, Democrats were picking nominees in two suburban Atlanta
congressional districts that were crafted to elect Republicans but swung
away from the president’s party in 2016.
the 7th Congressional District, former congressional aide Carolyn
Bourdeaux defeated education company CEO David Kim for the right to
challenge Rep. Rob Woodall (R). In the 6th Congressional District, where
first-time candidate Jon Ossoff lost a close special election last
year, gun-safety activist Lucy McBath defeated Kevin Abel.
2016, neither district was particularly competitive. While Rep. Karen
Handel (R) defeated Ossoff in the 6th District, Trump won just 48.3
percent of the vote there and just 51.1 percent in the 7th District —
down from the 60 percent that Mitt Romney had won in both districts in