Despite finishing behind Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle by 13 points in their May primary, Secretary of State Brian Kemp rolled to a resounding 39-point victory over his rival in Tuesday’s runoff election for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Cagle won only two counties—Monroe and Stephens—as the establishment favorite mustered 30.6 percent of the vote. Kemp, who received President Trump’s endorsement on July 18, took 69.4 percent, including Cagle’s home county.
Cagle suffered from an embarrassing political moment when a recording surfaced of him criticizing the GOP primary and admitting that he supported bad policy to sabotage an opponent’s fund-raising while boosting his own.
In his victory speech, Kemp quickly turned his attention toward the general election, attacking Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams for connections to Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and calling her radical.
Kemp received praise from his base for fiery ads attacking illegal immigration and defending gun rights, but Republican leaders worry this will continue to drive away moderate suburban Georgians that rejected Trump in 2016. He also received criticism for supporting a controversial religious freedom bill that many said was discriminatory toward homosexuals.
Abrams, a progressive gubernatorial candidate in a traditionally conservative state, was endorsed by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Kamala Harris (D-CA). Both she and Kemp appealed to increasingly polarized bases to win their party’s respective nomination. However, it remains uncertain whether they will move to the middle to pick up Georgia’s growing population of moderates, or double down and aim for turnout. Either way, this election will be closer than Republicans had originally hoped for.
As of June 30, Abrams has raised more money than Kemp, with more than twice as much cash on hand. The Cook Political Report rates this election as ‘solid Republican’ and Inside Elections rates it ‘likely Republican.’