ATLANTA — Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle will face Secretary of State Brian Kemp in a July runoff, after the two emerged as the top finalists Tuesday in the five-man race for the Republican nomination for Georgia governor.
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Whoever emerges from the grueling nine-week runoff will face a November showdown against former House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, a competition that will test whether the state is competitive after more than a decade of Republican rule.
Cagle has prepared his run for governor for a decade and had the highest profile in the Republican field thanks to three statewide victories and robust fundraising. But despite campaign fundraising that vastly exceeded his opponents, he failed to get a majority of the vote and avoid a runoff.
He’ll face Kemp, who used a series of provocative ads to help him emerge from the crowded field. One TV spot showed him brandishing a shotgun while talking to a nervous-looking young man, and in another be boasted that he’d “round up criminal illegals” in his own pickup truck.
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At his campaign party in an Athens hotel, Kemp told hundreds of cheering supporters he would work to relentlessly paint Cagle as a moderate.
“He’s not a leader. He’s a puppet,” said Kemp. “Yeah, I just said that. He’s not fighting for us. He’s fighting for those with deep pockets whose interests are not ours.”
Cagle tried to win over conservatives with promises to sign a “religious liberty” measure and won the endorsement of the National Rifle Association after he pledged to “kill” a tax break for Delta Air Lines when it cut ties with the pro-gun lobby.
But he also faced criticism from rivals who branded him an ineffective career politician who won’t aggressively champion conservative values. And though Cagle tacked to the right on some issues, he also refused to follow opponents who pledged deeper tax breaks or stricter abortion limits.
In his victory speech in his hometown of Gainesville, Cagle said he would “continue to fight for the value system of Georgia - for the Second Amendment as well.”
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