Georgia’s Republican run-off arrives as state tests its political identity
Jessica McGowan/Getty Images(ATLANTA) — An ugly gubernatorial nomination battle between two Republican candidates in Georgia has kept the spotlight on a state that hasn’t been considered swing territory for over a decade.
Republican voters heading to the polls for a run-off on Tuesday to select their nominee for a potentially historic governors race.
The weight of the White House is behind Georgia’s Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who aims to make up some ground after he fell behind by 13 points, but managed to force a run-off in May’s primary.
The head-to-head vote comes two weeks after secretly recorded audio tapes began to leak to the media, rocking the campaign of his opponent, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.
In one, Cagle is heard explaining his political motivations for backing “bad public policy.” Soon after, his opponent released audio of Cagle candidly saying the primary had become “who had the biggest gun, who had the biggest truck and who could be the craziest.”
The Kemp campaign followed the release by accusing Cagle of being out of touch with Georgia voters.
Cagle says the tapes were taken out of context. And as for losing the endorsement of the president, “the fact is the President doesn’t know my opponent at all,” Cagle wrote on his website on Monday.
“The President decided to do this because some Washington insiders who have weaseled their way into his ear convinced him to make a power play. Why? So they’ll have a Governor who answers to them instead of to Georgians.”
Cagle entered the runoff as a frontrunner after winning 39 percent of the vote in May’s primary to Kemp’s 26 percent but is now within the margin of error in the latest Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Channel 2 poll.
The splash of the GOP nomination fight has possibly created wakes of similar size to that of Democrat Stacey Abrams’ bid to become the first African-American woman elected governor in the United States. The former Democratic leader in the Georgia House of Representatives won the party’s gubernatorial nod in May’s primary.
Abrams faces a significant hurdle in attempting to flip a state generally seen as deeply conservative outside of its metropolitan areas. But she’s drawn the outspoken support of Democratic heavyweights such as Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Bernie Sanders.
No matter who is selected to represent the Republican party for Georgia’s governorship, they will likely be seen as the favorite in a general election Democrats hope will propel the Peach State into a swing state for 2020. The president defeated Hillary Clinton by more than 5 percent of the vote in the state during the 2016 elections.
Elsewhere in Georgia on Tuesday, two Democrats are running for their party’s nomination in the 6th Congressional District, the site of a near-upset in a 2017 special election to replace former congressman and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
The upstart Democrat in that election, Jon Ossoff, chose not to run again in 2018 after finishing fewer than two percentage points shy of capturing the seat in an 18-candidate race last April. He was later defeated by Republican Karen Handel by a 3.6 point margin in a head-to-head runoff in June 2017. The Republican Price had won his 2016 election by over 23 points.
This year, Democrats Lucy McBath and Kevin Abel advanced to a runoff for the opportunity to face Handel.
McBath, a former Delta Airlines employee whose son was killed in 2012 in an act of gun violence, received the influential endorsements of several prominent Democrats, including Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. Abel, a businessman, finished second to McBath by less than 3,000 votes in the first round of voting in May.
An additional primary runoff will take place in the safer-Republican 7th district between Democrats Carolyn Bourdeaux and David Kim, each vying for a spot on the ballot against incumbent GOP Rep. Rob Woodall.
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