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The Jolt: A wistful end to a bitter GOP race for governor


Monday was a chance for the two Republican candidates for governor to deliver their closing messages on what might have been, for one or the other, the final day of a long political career.

For Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, there was guarded optimism that President Donald Trump’s snub of his campaign wouldn’t be its death knell. But it was leavened with a tinge of regret when asked how he might have run his campaign differently. 

“It’s always easy to be Monday morning quarterback and look back,” he said. “I wish we had run ads telling my story, the story of where I came from, to be able to be where I am today is a story of the American dream.” 

And, by his account at least, he’s okay with losing the proverbial frontrunner status. 

“I’ve been an underdog all my life: I don’t know any other way. Nothing has ever been given to me. I’ve had to fight for everything all my life. But that’s who I am. And I’ll continue to fight all the way to the bitter end.”

He adds: “Georgians aren’t looking for someone who is a poser. They’re not looking for someone that’s a poser, for someone who says they’re an outsider even when they’re very much an insider.” 

His rival, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, sounded almost as if he were declaring an early victory. Kemp said his hard work had “finally paid off” and that he’s “seized the momentum.”

Still, he used his fly-around -- a far shorter schedule than Cagle’s nine-stop journey -- to urge his supporters not to be complacent.

“No polling matters,” Kemp said. “As good as these polls look for us, as good as the momentum is that we’ve seen on the ground, nothing matters more than the votes we get on the ground.”

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A few choice paragraphs from the Associated Press, on how Georgia’s evolution into a swing state fits into the national picture:

"This is a light-red state," GOP pollster Mark Rountree said. "I don't think Georgia will be a national afterthought for either side anymore" regardless of what happens in November, Rountree adds.

A close loss for Democrats will still be a loss. "There are no more moral victories in Georgia," says Democratic consultant Tharon Johnson. It's time for Democrats to capitalize on demographic changes and a "talented candidate" who should have plenty of campaign cash thanks to her national celebrity, he says.

Georgia's potential evolution toward swing-state status comes at a critical time for Democrats. Gains in coastal and Sunbelt states — Virginia, North Carolina and potentially Arizona — could offset growing challenges for the party in the upper Midwest, where Trump shocked many Democrats in 2016 by sweeping a band of states that Hillary Clinton's campaign had considered a "blue wall."

Ohio and Iowa are of particular concern for Democrats long-term, given that Trump's victory margin in both states neared double digits in 2016.

"These changes in states like Georgia aren't occurring in a vacuum," says Democratic pollster Zac McCrary. "The party cannot afford to get in a situation where their only path to 270 (electoral votes) has to include Ohio, so we need to bring a state like Georgia online as a possibility." 

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Let’s see, now. Brian Kemp has erased from his gubernatorial campaign all traces of Jason Spencer, the drawer-dropping, n-word spewing state lawmaker pranked on national television on Sunday night.

Gov. Nathan Deal, House Speaker David Ralston, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle have called for Spencer’s resignation.

State Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, has even sent a letter to the governor, urging him to call a special session of the General Assembly to purge the offender from its ranks. It includes these paragraphs:

In my capacity as a Georgia Citizen, Senator from Chatham County and Chairman of the 60 member Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, I cannot and will not tolerate the well-documented and outright bigotry and reprehensible conduct of a sitting member.

I clearly understand that Georgia Law provides you the ability to call the General Assembly into Special Session as you deem necessary. I call your attention to Title 45 of [the official code of Georgia]. This code section addresses Public Officers and their eligibility and qualifications for holding office. More specifically O.C.G.A. 45-2-1: Persons ineligible to hold civil office; vacations of office; validity of acts performed while in office where it states that “Persons of unsound mind and persons who, from advance age or bodily infirmity; are unfit to discharge the duties of the office of which they are chosen or appointed.”

But our AJC colleague James Salzer has deduced why Spencer, who was already defeated in the May GOP primary, is likely to ignore calls for him to quit:

[H]is term ends when the new General Assembly convenes in January. If he stays in office through then, he will have eight years of service, which is a magic number for members of the General Assembly.

After eight years, members of the General Assembly and their family are eligible for taxpayer-subsidized health insurance for life, state officials say.

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U.S. Sen. David Perdue drew the ire yesterday of U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, who was livid about a Perdue-backed provision in the compromise defense policy bill that would shape the future of an aircraft housed at Robins Air Force Base. Now other GOP colleagues are voicing displeasure about another major Perdue victory that made it into the final version of the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act -- the text of which was unveiled yesterday

Florida senator and former presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, along with a bipartisan group of other senators, expressed frustration after language that imposed tough penalties on the Chinese telecom firm ZTE was removed from the final bill. “It makes no sense to me,” Rubio said on CNN. “But we got played again and this cannot continue to happen.” An overwhelming majority of senators voted last month, 85-10, to fold in the language, which sought to block an agreement Trump’s Commerce Department made to keep ZTE in business after it violated American sanctions against North Korea and Iran. Under the agreement, ZTE would pay a more than $1 billion fine, replace its leadership and adhere to the word of American compliance officers.

Perdue and the Trump administration had pushed hard for Congress to abandon the language, arguing it could further strain relations with China as the president looks to renegotiate trade deals with the world’s second largest economy and curtail North Korea’s nuclear program. Perdue on Monday celebrated the provision being removed from the final defense bill, arguing it would still punish ZTE while bolstering the U.S.’ national security interests:

“The global business community took notice when our Commerce Department issued its harshest penalty ever on ZTE for violating our country’s sanctions. Congress didn’t need to muddy the waters by halting the penalty, which could have negatively impacted on-going negotiations pertaining to trade and sanctions enforcement,” he said.

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Both U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue voted yesterday to confirm Robert Wilkie to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. The current Defense Department official was confirmed by the Senate on a vote of 86-9. Despite the overwhelming backing in the upper chamber – the ‘no’ votes came from the Democratic Party’s liberal wing, including potential presidential hopefuls Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren – that still makes him the most divisive VA nominee in the department’s history. Before yesterday, no senator had ever voted against a nominee for VA secretary. Isakson, the chairman of the Senate VA Committee, said he’s “confident” Wilkie will be the leader to “help move the VA away from the problems of the past.”

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