ATLANTA (AP) — Never mind cutting taxes, creating jobs and other pocketbook mainstays of past Republican campaigns. Amid fierce competition in the GOP primary race for Georgia governor, the five remaining candidates are battling it out over who loves guns the most, who would prove toughest on people in the country illegally and who would best support President Donald Trump.
The major candidates, a cadre of statewide officeholders, former lawmakers and businessmen, have similar policy goals on those issues but are locked in an increasingly noisy battle over each other’s records as they try to win over conservative voters.
If no candidate on Election Day this Tuesday receives more than 50 percent of the vote – a distinct possibility with the crowded field – the two people with the most votes will advance to a runoff July 24.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has maintained a steady lead in public polling, but there is a tight battle playing out for the No. 2 spot and possible runoff position.
Outrage is brewing over a political ad for Georgia gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp. Surrounded by guns, and cleaning one on his lap, the conservative businessman appears to threaten a minor. Nathan Rousseau Smith reports.
Media: Buzz 60
—Cagle, a Gainesville businessman who works in banking and real estate, has served in state government since 1994 and secured the backing of several colleagues in the legislature.
— Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a lifelong Athens resident, owns a small business specializing in real estate and property management and has served as Secretary of State since 2010.
—Hunter Hill, an Army veteran and president of an executive coaching company, is a former state senator representing the Atlanta area.
—Clay Tippins, a former Navy SEAL from Atlanta, has positioned himself as an outsider who would bring his experience as an executive with international business consulting firms to the governor’s office.
— Sen. Michael Williams of Cumming, perhaps the most outspoken in the field, is a businessman and accountant who was elected to the state Senate in 2014.
Guns rights became a major campaign issue in February when Cagle and his Republican colleagues in the Georgia Senate killed a tax break that would have saved Delta Air Lines, one of the state’s largest employers, millions each year in retaliation for ending a discount program for members of the National Rifle Association.
Cagle was quickly endorsed by the NRA, which said: "At a time when the five million members of the NRA are under attack like never before, Casey Cagle has very publicly chosen to stand with us."
Other GOP gubernatorial candidates have since taken to television airwaves and social media in a battle to highlight their pro-gun bona fides.
In late April, Kemp’s campaign ran an ad touting his support for the Second Amendment on local television that featured Kemp cleaning a shotgun in his lap while pretending to go over some rules with a young man interested in his daughter.
The video drew swift condemnation from critics who said it appeared to show Kemp threatening the young man and made light of gun violence. Kemp later tweeted his reaction to the controversy: "I’m conservative, folks. Get over it!"
Hill’s campaign released a video showing him loading a semi-automatic rifle and saying he "won’t give an inch on our Second Amendment."
But Tippins ran a campaign ad that suggested Hill supported raising the age limit for buying semi-automatic rifles to 21. Hill denied that.
Williams offered to give away free bump stocks, a device that makes semi-automatic rifles fire more like automatic ones, amid discussion of banning the device after the deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas in October.
Cagle touts his record of helping pass tough immigration laws in the state legislature and of targeting cities with sanctuary policies.
Tippins’ immigration plan focuses on cracking down on MS-13 and other street gangs, while Hill wants to get tough on cities that he says have sanctuary policies.
Kemp wants to establish a state database that would track crimes committed by people living in the country illegally. In a recent campaign video, Kemp says: "I got a big truck just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take ’em home myself."
Williams, also an opponent of sanctuary policies, toured the state on a "deportation bus tour."
Critics have been quick to say that discussion of immigration in the race has devolved into fear-mongering.
"This type of scapegoating of immigrants for political ends is reprehensible," said Azadeh Shahshahani, legal director at Project South, an immigrants’ rights advocacy group based in Atlanta. She called some of the rhetoric of the campaign "inflammatory and racist."
SUPPORT FOR TRUMP
The candidates also largely agree that the next governor of Georgia should be a strong defender of President Trump’s agenda.