When Georgia Republicans first voted in their gubernatorial primary in May, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle easily outpaced Secretary of State Brian Kemp, 39% to 26%. Since neither candidate in the multi-candidate field reached 50%, they advanced to a runoff, but given Cagle’s tally from the first round of balloting, most expected the lieutenant governor to prevail.
That didn’t quite work out. First a recording emerged of Cagle making some candid – and not altogether complimentary – comments about the GOP primary process. Then Donald Trump threw his support behind Kemp, defying the wishes of much of the Georgia Republican establishment. (Incumbent Republican Gov. Nathan Neal and the NRA supported Cagle.)
As the dust settled last night, the results weren’t close.
Georgia’s governor’s race – already the nation’s most watched gubernatorial election this fall – is poised to go nuclear after the results of Tuesday night’s GOP runoff.
Brian Kemp, who won a decisive victory over Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, now faces Democrat Stacey Abrams on Nov. 6, in a battle between two elected officials who have been at odds with each other for years.
With all of the precincts reporting, Kemp ended up winning by about 39 points, more than doubling Cagle’s vote totals. It’s very unusual to see a leading candidate perform much worse in a runoff than in a first-round primary, but Cagle, who’d never previously lost a contest in Georgia, went from 39% of the vote in May to 30.6% of the vote yesterday.
And that, in turn, sets the stage for an amazing contest.
On the Republican side, we see Kemp, who was not expected to win the GOP nomination, but who gained traction in part through his far-right campaign message – which included claims that Kemp is prepared to use his truck to personally capture undocumented immigrants.
Kemp also aired a commercial in which he appeared to aim a shotgun in the direction of a teenager.
On the Democratic side, we see Stacey Abrams, a former deputy mayor of Atlanta, state House minority leader, and the first black woman to win a major party nomination for governor. As Mother Jones noted last night, Abrams, a progressive champion, isn’t “targeting disaffected Republicans in more rural areas of the state,” but rather, hopes to prevail by “betting on a strategy of registering and turning out new voters.”
What’s more, Ed Kilgore – to whom I turn for all things related to Georgia – added yesterday that Kemp “has a particular history with Abrams over her efforts to register previously untapped reservoirs of minority voters, and his supervision as Georgia’s chief election official of aggressive voter purge initiatives that push the limits of federal and state laws and take advantage of weak Voting Rights Act enforcement by the courts and the Trump administration.”
A recent SurveyUSA poll for the NBC affiliate in Atlanta found Abrams trailing Kemp in a general-election match-up, but only by two points.
Buckle up for the nation’s most interesting gubernatorial race.