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Rhetoric on immigrants heats up in Republican governor primary race
05152018 RHETORIC
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp will face off in a July 24 runoff in the Republican governor primary.

Republican candidates are ramping up their rhetoric on border security and immigrants with a week left before the primary.

Candidates running to replace Gov. Nathan Deal have poured money into advertising in the final month of the primary campaign, and there have been two targets of criticism above all others: other candidates and illegal immigrants.

On Monday, May 14, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle waded into the debate on immigrants who are living in Georgia illegally, saying he would send National Guard troops to the southern border as governor.

In an announcement, the Cagle campaign said the Republican would “answer President Trump’s call” to send troops to the border with Mexico as part of Operation Guardian Support.

“In our state, we’ve led the nation in cracking down on illegal immigration, but we are just treating symptoms until we get to the root of the problem,” Cagle said in the announcement. “I’ve led the fight against sanctuary cities in Decatur and helped pass one of the toughest laws against illegal immigration in the country. But, I share President Trump’s frustration that the illegal border crossings continue. That’s why as governor of Georgia I’ll send the best National Guard to bolster Operation Guardian Support.”

Cagle wades into the debate as Secretary of State Brian Kemp has been making national headlines for a new advertisement featuring explosions, guns and his pickup truck.

The ad, named “So Conservative,” doubled down on an earlier television hit from Kemp in which he jokingly brandished a shotgun near the boyfriend of one of his daughters.

In the new ad, Kemp says he’s “so conservative, I blow up government spending” as an explosion blossoms in a field behind him. He’s later seen climbing into the cab of a truck.

“I got a big truck,” Kemp says in his long drawl. “Just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take them home myself.”

For emphasis, he adds, “Yup, I just said that.”

The ads have been an attempt for Kemp to break through the noise in the final days of the primary, especially as other well-funded candidates (former state Sen. Hunter Hill and Cagle) have dropped millions of dollars in advertising, mailers and marathon bus tours around the state to connect with voters.

And given national and even international coverage of Kemp’s ads, the explosive content has had its intended effect.

Likewise, Cagle’s announcement on Monday is intended to be a major development in the primary — and a change of state policy, as Deal has so far not agreed to send Georgia National Guard troops to the border — unexpected from a candidate who most consider an establishment, well-connected candidate for Georgia’s next governor.

Cagle made a similar move during the recent session of the Georgia General Assembly, when he shocked political observers, and made national news himself, by stripping a jet fuel subsidy prized by Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines after the company dropped a price deal for members of the National Rifle Association.

Delta made the move amid public pressure after the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Immigrants in the country illegally have been a major target for candidates, from Sen. Michael Williams to Hill, as they seek to capture an election issue central to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.