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The Jolt: The middle disappears in Georgia’s race for governor


If you need a measure of the completeness of Casey Cagle’s collapse on Tuesday, and the polarized November contest that’s headed our way, consider that in the Democratic primary for governor in May, Stacey Evans carried only six of 159 Georgia counties as she lost to Stacey Abrams, who won 76 percent of the vote.

Last night, Cagle carried two counties, as Brian Kemp won his party’s nomination with 69 percent of GOP ballots.

In each case, the candidate who listed toward the center was hammered.

In Hall County, home turf to Cagle as well as Gov. Nathan Deal, Kemp won 56 percent of the vote. Kemp took 83 percent of the vote in his native Athens-Clarke County.

David Belle Isle, who came in a distant second-place in the GOP runoff for secretary of state, still got about 25,000 votes more than Cagle. And that’s despite 50,000 fewer votes cast in that down-ticket race.

Last night, a Cagle ally slipped us the graphic from the campaign’s internal ballot-tracking poll. Below is an enhanced version. Cagle is the blue line, Kemp is the yellow one. That red line marks Wednesday, July 18, the day of Trump’s endorsement:

But his numbers fell off a cliff once President Donald Trump endorsed Kemp. Another way to measure the shift: According to the AJC’s number-cruncher, Kemp won 46 percent of the absentee ballot vote, 58 percent of the in-person advance vote, and 75 percent of the Election Day vote.

Brandon Phillips, the Cagle deputy who once led Trump’s Georgia operation, offered this assessment: “I don’t want to hear anyone ever say our president isn’t popular,” he said. “It’s a Trump party. Get on board or get out of the way.” 

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Speaking of the president, Donald Trump has already sent Democrat Stacey Abrams some Twitter love this morning:

Congratulations to Brian Kemp on your very big win in Georgia last night. Wow, 69-30, those are big numbers. Now go win against the open border, crime loving opponent that the Democrats have given you. She is weak on Vets, the Military and the 2nd Amendment. Win!

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On Tuesday, before polls closed, the Republican Governors Association was out with a pre-emptive attack on Democrat Stacey Abrams. The Democratic Governors Association returned the favor this morning, using the “craziest” audio from the secret recording of Casey Cagle, and that Kemp ad in which he appears to be pointing a shotgun at “Jake,” his daughter’s alleged suitor. Watch here:

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One difference between the 2014 general election contest for governor will be the multiple fronts from which Democrats will be making their attacks on Republican Brian Kemp.

At Lucy McBath’s watch party (she defeated businessman Kevin Abel), we were assured that McBath -- an anti-gun violence activist -- will make prominent mention of Kemp’s use of a shotgun in one of his TV ads during the primary. And a Tuesday night statement from John Barrow, the former Georgia congressman who won the Democratic nomination for secretary of state outright in May, which attacked his newly annointed GOP opponent, Brad Raffensperger, as well as Kemp. A couple paragraphs:

"There’s been an overwhelming consensus in Georgia that Brian Kemp has failed to do his job as Secretary of State. Whether it was delegating essential governmental responsibilities to incompetent outside contractors, or allowing them to destroy evidence of outside interference with our elections, or failing to protect citizens from professional fraud or corruption, Kemp failed to do his job. All the while, Raffensperger failed to hold Kemp accountable.

“Voters don’t have to take my word for it — Raffensperger’s fellow Republicans have accused him of perjury, refusing to pay his taxes, failing to pay his business debts, and even making false statements when qualifying for this office. Apparently he’s gotten this far because he’s got more of his own money to lend his campaign than his opponents have been able to raise.”

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Minutes after Casey Cagle conceded defeat, his supporters -- and a horde of GOP politicians who had stayed out of the race -- endorsed Brian Kemp. 

That included Gov. Nathan Deal, a Cagle backer who said “it’s time to unite” behind Kemp. 

“Together, we’ll continue to keep our state the best place in the country to live, work and raise a family,” he said via Twitter. 

Ditto for U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who was neutral in the contest but quick to support Kemp. U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who also steered clear, had an effusive endorsement for the secretary of state.

“I grew up down the road from Gov. Deal, I watched his leadership usher in unprecedented success for our state, and I look forward to continuing that legacy in 2019.”

Not everyone was so ready to back Kemp. State Sen. Renee Unterman, one of Cagle’s more vocal supporters, was asked shortly after Kemp’s victory what Republicans need to do to win in November. 

“I don’t have anything to say,” she said.

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Another measure of Brian Kemp’s success last night: He still must get past Democrat Stacey Abrams, but if he does, he’d be the first secretary of state to move directly to higher office since Democrat Max Cleland went to the U.S. Senate in 1996.

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It was a low-turnout race, but it wasn’t abysmally low turnout.  The GOP race was projected to total around 580,000 ballots, which is relatively strong for a mid-summer contest. The party totaled 607,441 in the primary. 

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One of Georgia’s most snake-bit pieces of political territory, House District 19 in Paulding County, will change hands again. When House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, resigned in 2009 after confessing an affair with a lobbyist, he was replaced in a 2010 special election by Daniel Stout, a Republican whose background included an affair with his mother-in-law. Paulette Rakestraw defeated Stout in a regular season primary runoff that same year.

On Tuesday, Rakestraw herself was defeated by Joseph Gullett in a GOP runoff, 57 to 43 percent. She was the only incumbent lawmaker ousted last night. There is a Democrat in the contest as well, but it’s a heavily GOP district.

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In that same general territory, Ginny Ehrhart of Powder Springs moved a step closer to replacing her husband, Earl Ehrhart, in the House District 36. Ginny Ehrhart defeated Thomas Gray in a GOP runoff with 51 percent of the west Cobb County vote. She’ll face Democrat Jen Slipakoff in November.

An interesting aspect of Ginny Ehrhart’s campaign: In reams of direct mail, she never mentioned her husband, who is currently the longest-serving Republican in the Legislature.

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While you were watching ballots flow in last night, U.S. Sen. David Perdue further cemented his alliance with President Donald Trump. From The Hill newspaper:

A Senate resolution backing the intelligence community's findings on Russia's election meddling was blocked for a second time on Tuesday.

Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Christopher Coons (D-Del.) tried to get consent to pass their resolution, which also thanks the Department of Justice (DOJ) for investigating Russia's interference.

But GOP Sen. David Perdue (Ga.) blocked their request, calling it a "political distraction." Under the Senate's rules any one senator can block a request to pass legislation by unanimous consent.

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