As a large, black military truck with a star on each door pulled up at the Smithgall Arts Center, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and retired Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North stepped out.
The Gainesville fish fry rally on Saturday, July 14, was their final stop of the day after earlier campaign stops in Savannah and Kennesaw.
GOP primary runoff
When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays - Fridays through July 20
Where: Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville
Runoff Election Day
When: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. July 24
Where: Check county elections website for polling precincts
Many turned out for the event with fans, stickers and shirts showing their support for Cagle ahead of his runoff against Secretary of State Brian Kemp for the Republican gubernatorial nomination on July 24. Early voting continues this week.
North, incoming president of the National Rifle Association, was there to show his support for Cagle, too.
“I’m here because there’s only one candidate for governor who’s been endorsed by the National Rifle Association, has a sterling record in support of the Second Amendment and is going to make sure your gun rights, and many rights, are going to be defended,” North said.
North’s words were met with cheers and applause as Cagle stood off to his left, looking on. North spoke mainly about the need to protect the Second Amendment, encouraging those in attendance to vote for Cagle and urge others along to do the same.
He praised Cagle, saying if candidates like him are elected “then the Second Amendment is going to be safe.”
Cagle spoke, too, touching on all the points like Georgia’s economy, jobs, business and tax cuts, calling them “great successes.” He also touched on infrastructure, education and the low labor participation rate across the state and the changes he will make to improve it.
Most of all, Cagle said he appreciated the support he’s received from North.
“I love the fight in him,” Cagle said. “He has encouraged me so much. He is a man that has great principle, great vision and great direction. And just being around him today has given me so much encouragement, and I just value what he’s done in his life, but also what he’s doing by standing up for the Second Amendment as well.”
Not everyone was happy Cagle and North were in Gainesville. Just outside the gate, on the sidewalk across the street was a small group of five protesters. They held signs in the air, while protesting for gun law reform by “taking a stand against Casey Cagle’s politics.” More specifically, the protesters were “taking a stand against his inaction on gun violence.”
“We’re here protesting the fact that Casey Cagle felt the need to accept money and endorsement from the NRA,” said Judy Kreps, a Dahlonega resident and member of Indivisible Lumpkin, a group that says it shares progressive values and opposes President Donald Trump. “Not only that, but to have the president of the NRA, felon Oliver North, show up at his fundraiser.”
Jarred Hudgins, a member of Indivisible Lumpkin and Gainesville native, organized the protest. He said he doesn’t have a problem with someone owning a weapon as long as that person “can pass a background check and doesn’t beat their wife.” He said the “current system is not working,” yet “the NRA is pushing for that broken system.”
“Basic history would say that Oliver North is kind of a sketchy character,” Hudgins said of North, a key figured in the Iran-Contra affair under President Ronald Reagan’s administration. “For him to be here advocating for the NRA of all things, I couldn’t let that stand.”
But there were many guests inside the gate waiting to hear what North and Cagle had to say.
Chris Dorsey, an Army veteran, was invited by the Cagle campaign to meet with the lieutenant governor following the event to discuss veterans issues. He stood near the back, observing everything going on around him.
“I’m still kind of checking things out,” said Dorsey, a Gainesville resident. “That’s one of the reasons I’m here.”
He said speaking personally with a candidate will help him make his decision.
Lee Irminger, a Gainesville resident, still hasn’t decided who he will vote for during the runoff. He said he likes seeing how much “political action is attracted” to Gainesville and how much the city is exposed to it.
He hoped listening to Cagle and North would help him make his decision.
“Both candidates have a lot of baggage, and that’s a lot to digest and to figure out,” Irminger said. “So it makes it hard as a voter when you have two candidates who have quite a storied history, figuring out what to do is not an easy choice.”