The National Rifle Association has endorsed Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in his gubernatorial bid.
Cagle won a ringing endorsement from the gun rights group on Thursday, April 12, for what it described as Cagle’s “unwavering” support for gun rights during his time in office.
Cagle also turned heads earlier this year when he pulled a subsidy for Delta Air Lines from a state tax reform bill during the Georgia General Assembly’s legislative session.
The row began when the airline cut ties with the NRA in the face of mounting political pressure on companies offering discounts for NRA members after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.
“At a time when the five million members of the NRA are under attack like never before, Casey Cagle has very publicly chosen to stand with us,” said Chris Cox, chairman of the NRA’s Political Victory Fund political action committee. “Our endorsement reflects Cagle’s unwavering support to advance self-defense rights and the interests of gun owners and sportsmen across Georgia.”
The NRA also endorsed Sen. David Shafer to be Georgia’s next lieutenant governor. The endorsement will help to buoy the candidacy of Shafer, who represents Duluth, after news broke earlier this year that a veteran lobbyist in Atlanta filed a sexual harassment complaint against the senator.
Shafer denied any allegations in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and the Georgia Senate Ethics Committee cleared Shafer of any wrongdoing.
On Thursday, Shafer tweeted that he believed the Georgia Senate Ethics Committee investigation into the allegations would exonerate him. The committee’s report and its investigation have not been opened to the public, but Shafer will hold a press conference to address its conclusions on Friday.
“As I have said from the beginning, these allegations were false. I welcomed the appointment of a respected outside investigator, even though she is a partisan Democrat, because I knew that any serious investigation would result in my complete exoneration,” Shafer said on Friday. “As much as I appreciate having my good name cleared, the sad reality is that the resources and time spent investigating lies like these take away from the real suffering experienced by actual victims.”
The committee’s findings have been released to Shafer but not to the public, and Ethics Committee Chairman Sen. Dean Burke confirmed in a Friday letter that the findings are confidential and will not be released to the public.
In the Thursday announcement, the NRA also credited Cagle for his work in 2014 on legislation expanding gun rights through streamlining the concealed carry process and expanding areas where Georgians can carry firearms.
The group also noted Cagle’s support for the 2017 campus carry legislation that allows state residents to carry firearms on universities in certain areas and situations.
"Gun ownership is a right that Georgians take seriously, and the NRA endorsement is the gold standard in our state,” Cagle said in an announcement. “I'm an avid outdoorsman, and I taught all three of my boys how to hunt, shoot and respect firearms. That’s an American legacy that I want to see handed down to my grandchildren and to the generations that follow them."
There are more than 100,000 active NRA members in Georgia, according to Cagle’s campaign — a small portion of Georgia’s 10.4 million residents but likely an enormous chunk of Republican primary voters.
In 2014, only 596,000 votes were cast in the Republican primary between incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal and two challengers. In 2010, the most recent gubernatorial primary without an incumbent, just short of 680,500 votes were cast among seven candidates, forcing a runoff between Deal and Karen Handel.
With so many votes on the line, expect Republicans in the primary to continue to court gun rights voters and NRA members despite the endorsements this week.
“Hunter’s voting record during five years in the state Senate and service to our country on three combat tours overseas in defense of our constitution and Second Amendment prove that he will be Georgians’ greatest defender of their God-given right to keep and bear arms,” said Hunter Hill spokesman Cody Hall on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Brian Kemp has made gun rights a central part of his campaign for governor.
“The Second Amendment is not a talking point to me. It’s a way of life. I shoot, hunt and carry — because we have the right to protect ourselves and defend our families from harm,” Kemp said in a statement. “As governor, I won't compromise or play games for political gain.”
In an email responding to the endorsement, Sen. Michael Williams' spokesman Seth Weathers knocked Cagle's record on guns.
"With Casey's flip-flopping record on gun rights, his opposition to constitutional carry, and backroom deals to weaken gun rights, he's going to need the help," Weathers said.
Clay Tippins also knocked Cagle as being untrustworthy on guns.
"Like his record on everything else, Casey Cagle has said whatever his audience wanted to hear at the time when it comes to the Second Amendment,” Tippins spokeswoman Erinn Robinson said on Friday. “In 2014, Casey said that constitutional carry should be subject to 'opt in' or 'opt out' provisions. In 2017, Cagle blocked a Constitutional Carry Amendment from being brought before the Georgia Senate.”