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Casey Cagle faces tough competition from Brian Kemp in Republican runoff for governor
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Casey Cagle and wife Nita mingle with the crowd gathered Tuesday, May 22, 2018, at The Chair Factory in Gainesville to watch results of the Republican primary for governor. - photo by Scott Rogers

A Casey Cagle-Brian Kemp Republican runoff is coming July 24.

Secretary of State Kemp chipped away at Lt. Gov. Cagle’s lead as more than 90 percent of Georgia counties reported results as of 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 22. Cagle was sitting above 38 percent of the vote as the night drew on, while Kemp was holding steady at 26 percent.

Both Cagle and Kemp were running ahead of their polling, though Kemp was pulling far ahead of his polling figures during the campaign, which had him in second place but in the high single digits to low double digits.

Public polls since January showed that as much as 30 percent of Republican voters remained undecided in the weeks leading up to Tuesday.

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Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, Republican primary candidate for governor approaches the podium to address supporters during an election night results party Tuesday, May 22, 2018, in Athens, Ga. - photo by Associated Press

Meanwhile, Cagle and Kemp were the only two candidates in the Republican field who have held statewide office.

The results are likely to cause some concern among the Cagle camp, who hoped for the lieutenant governor to finish with at least more than 40 percent of the vote as a show of force moving into a runoff.

Cagle finished with 48.8 percent of the vote in Hall County, with all but one precinct reporting. Kemp took about 21 percent of the vote.

Overall, the number of voters requesting Republican ballots was much higher than those requesting Democratic ballots: Republican ballots were up by about 116,000 ballots at the end of the night, sitting at about 552,000 ballots to Democrats’ 436,000.

A calm Cagle earlier in the night told a packed hometown crowd in Gainesville he was “at peace” regardless of the outcome on Tuesday. Cagle held a primary-night party at The Chair Factory, an event venue opened in the site of the shuttered Georgia Chair.

“I feel it in my heart,” he said from the stage. “We’re so excited to be in a position to really offer to the state of Georgia even greater economic prosperity where no one is left behind.”

Talking with supporters late Tuesday night, Kemp said he was dedicated to “fundamentally changing the way state government spends taxes and operates.”

Kemp also noted a pair of his late-campaign advertisements that got him extensive attention.

“Voters have (heard) about my story and my plans. They have also met Jake, and they realize that big trucks have multiple uses,” Kemp said, to laughs from the audience. “Most importantly, we made a simple promise: to put you hardworking Georgians first.”

The secretary of state also blasted Cagle with both barrels in his speech in Athens, calling Cagle a “puppet” of special interest who “twisted every arm at the state Capitol he could find.”

Introduced by Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, Cagle took to the stage in Gainesville to ramp up supporters a few times during the evening. More than 10 state lawmakers, most of them senators, turned out to Gainesville to support Cagle, who has attracted deep support, and deep donations, from both lawmakers and lobbyists in the Capitol.

Along with Miller, Sens. Steve Gooch, Renee Unterman and a handful of others spoke on Cagle’s behalf. Unterman talked up Cagle’s support among women, while another speaker talked about Cagle’s hardscrabble upbringing, saying that the man “came up right — he came up hard.”

Cagle’s campaign volunteers played up Cagle’s economic platform.

Suzanne Powell is an active volunteer for Cagle who works in the energy industry and was born and raised in Hall County. She came to know the lieutenant governor through his work on career and technical education.

“It’s been a great thing for this state,” Powell said at the election party. “It’s tremendous for us to have access to that skilled student.”

Powell argues that Cagle’s tenure in state government has given him the expertise needed to keep Georgia’s economy running hot — arguing against the “career politician” rhetoric of some of the other candidates in the race.

“I hear that a lot, when people say we don’t want a career politician. I consider our governor to be the leader of the state, just like a business. A business cannot be successful if they’re constantly changing out their upper management, their executives. They’ve got to have that seasoned knowledge.”

While Cagle doesn’t want to be known as a “status quo candidate,” based on his comments to Georgia media, the lieutenant governor is presenting himself as the steady hand with a long record in government while most of the other candidates have pitched themselves as outsiders.

Even while Cagle has adopted some of the messages of his competitors — he hyped his immigration and gun rights positions as both Kemp and Williams were getting noticed and making headlines with splashy commercials and strong words on both issues — he said the state doesn’t need a Republican gubernatorial candidate who relies on “gimmicks” going into the general election against Stacey Abrams, who bested competitor Stacey Evans early Tuesday evening.

But that doesn’t mean he’s not confident in the Republican Party’s chances in November.

“I don’t think anything is in jeopardy, because we’re going to win — if not tonight, we’ll certainly win in the runoff,” Cagle said.