Hunter Hill, Cagle slayer.
That’s the message left in Gainesville by the former state senator from Buckhead, who says he’s the only gubernatorial candidate who can topple the state’s longtime Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in a runoff.
Hill hit Gainesville as part of a multiday bus tour on Wednesday, May 2, talking to a group of about 30 energized supporters at the Longstreet Cafe before rolling on to Commerce and Loganville.
Right up front was Hill’s military service, a major motif in the former Army Ranger’s campaign, and his time at the U.S. Military Academy and as an infantryman overseas.
“Islamic terrorism will never bring this country to its knees because we’re too strong and they’re too weak,” Hill said, spouts of “amen” coming from his audience on the front porch of Longstreet. “What will bring our country to its knees are weak, career politicians who undermine the values and the principles that made us the greatest country in the world.”
With his military record, including playing on the Army football team while at West Point, a business background and a five-year stint as the state senator for District 6 in Buckhead, one of Georgia’s most frequent swing districts, Hill is presenting himself as the capable leader willing to enact conservative policy goals amid a field of “weak, career politicians.”
It’s a message that resonates with Ross Leikvoll, a 26-year-old Gainesville resident who came out to hear Hill speak. After getting involved at the national level, the young Republican has taken more interest in state and local politics to enact change.
“I’m against career politicians, and I feel like they don’t get things done,” Leikvoll said after Hill’s speech. “I’m a little disappointed — I feel like Casey Cagle and Nathan Deal with the tax deal really only did it just because of the success they saw from Donald Trump, whereas we’ve had Republican majorities in Georgia for a while.”
Primary early voting: April 30-May 18
Primary: May 22General election: Nov. 6
On his bus tour around the state, which ends on Saturday, May 5, in Cobb County, Hill is driving that sentiment home.
“The whole reason people love Donald Trump — and I love him and I was for David Perdue right out of the gate — is because career politicians are weak, and they don’t want to risk their own re-elections to do the things we need to do,” he told his supporters at Longstreet.
And there are a few things Hill thinks we need to do.
He wants to eliminate the state income tax, which makes up half of the state budget and generates more than $10 billion for the state each year. Other candidates, including Cagle, have said this is impossible, but Hill said he wants to create a broad-based consumption tax (think sales tax) to offset the tax cut.
“The elimination of the income tax is going to be an increasingly important issue to discuss,” Hill said aboard his campaign bus in Gainesville. “Because of the federal tax reform, we’re going to be at a competitive disadvantage if we don’t address the fact that we have one of the highest income tax rates in the Southeast.”
Hill wants to enact a school choice program to allow state education funding to follow students. He told supporters that “we need to elevate the game in K-12” in Georgia, and his solution is school choice.
Hill has been dogged by claims that he’s soft on gun control in the campaign, but the former soldier has addressed criticism from other candidates and, while talking with The Times on Wednesday, pledged he would sign a “constitutional carry” bill if it reached his desk as governor.
“It’s the notion that the Constitution itself, the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, is enough to be able to carry a weapon to protect yourself,” Hill said. “Why do we need to go to the local county to get permission to do that, which the Constitution has granted us the God-given right to do?”
If the Georgia General Assembly passed a bill allowing gun owners to carry concealed firearms with only a driver’s license, Hill said: “I’d sign that bill.”
He’s anti-abortion, telling supporters he’d sign any bill that protects the unborn that reaches his desk if he were to be elected governor.
But underneath Hill’s policy positions rests a core pitch crafted with an eye for a Republican primary runoff.
Polling released up to this point from campaigns and media organizations shows Hill and Secretary of State Brian Kemp vying for second place behind Cagle. The Hill camp believes it’s got that second spot and is banking at a one-on-one shot at Cagle, who acknowledges a runoff is definitely happening.
“We know that our message is resonating with voters. The challenge when you’re running against career politicians, the political establishment, the special interests, is getting that message out — that’s why we have an army of volunteers,” Hill said as his bus idled near Longstreet Cafe. “We don’t have as much money as Casey Cagle, but we don’t need as much money as Casey Cagle. He’s bought and paid for. We’re doing the hard work of grass roots to get this message out, and it’s working. In a runoff, when there’s a lot more attention on this race, we’ll win that runoff.
“But we’ve got to get there first.”