Yesterday’s Republican run-off in Georgia’s gubernatorial contest is as good an example as there is as to why parties hate run-offs. They are risky propositions that can produce results that change the trajectory of a general election. Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s nomination has made the general election much more difficult for Republicans and moves the race to the Lean Republican column.
Kemp easily won the GOP run-off, defeating Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, 69 percent to 31 percent. Cagle finished first in the May 22 primary with 39 percent, followed by Kemp with 26; three other candidates split the remaining 35 percent. Cagle started the nine-week run-off as a slight favorite. He had more resources and the support of much of the state’s GOP establishment. Even so, he was going to have to fight his way to 50 percent.
Kemp’s strengths in the run-off were that he is a down the line conservative. His ads featured guns (including a shotgun pointed at his daughter’s boyfriend), promises to blow up government (complete with an explosion), and a big truck that he promised to use to round up criminal illegals. At the end of one spot, Kemp referred to himself as a politically incorrect conservative. In ads attacking Cagle, Kemp accused him of failing to support President Trump, of incompetence in office and only pretending to be a conservative. It didn’t help that taped conversations came to light in which Cagle was heard saying that race had come down to, “who had the biggest gun, who had the biggest truck, and who could be the craziest.” He was right, but it didn’t endear him to run-off voters. The final and perhaps most effective arrow that Kemp had in his quiver was an endorsement from President Trump.
Former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams easily won the Democratic nomination in the May 22 primary with 76 percent of the vote. She is as progressive as Kemp is conservative. The result is going to be the most polarized gubernatorial contest in the country. The day of the run-off provided a good preview of what’s to come. The Republican Governors Association launched a television spot that portrays Abrams as an unapologetic progressive who is in lock step with Hillary Clinton and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The ad features footage of Clinton praising Abrams’ nomination. Once the run-off was decided, Democrats started to pile on Kemp as an extremist who will harm the state’s business climate. They further argued that his anti-choice views will set women’s rights back decades and that his position on immigration is to the right of the President’s.
Democrats contend that Georgia is a winnable state for them, pointing out that Trump took just 51 percent to 46 percent for Clinton. They believe that Abrams will perform better in a year that favors Democrats. Unlike past races, Democrats seem more interested in maximizing their base than they are trying to appeal to the middle. Republicans believe that the strategy is flawed, pointing out that more Republicans turned out in both the primary and the run-off than Democrats turned out in the primary. Both campaigns will ultimately have all the financial resources they need between their own fundraising, dedicated super PACs, and help from the RGA and the Democratic Governors Association. But, Abrams starts the general election in better shape financially. As of June 30, she had raised $6 million for the cycle and had $1.5 million in the bank. By contrast, Kemp has raised $5.1 million for the cycle and had a cash-on-hand total of $442,000 as of July 18.
Democrats are often very enthusiastic about opportunities in Georgia, only to be disappointed, but Abrams might put them closer than ever to kicking the proverbial football. Still, Republicans start the race with a bit of an advantage and thus is in the Lean Republican column. That said, there is great potential for the contest to land in Toss Up.
Image: Brian Kemp | Credit: AP Photo/John Amis