The tax break was at the top of Delta's legislative wish-list, and it initially had the support of Gov. Nathan Deal and a host of powerful lawmakers. But Cagle's stance effectively blocked it from becoming law, and the governor was forced to sign an income tax-cut measure into law without the jet fuel incentives.
A poll by a Cagle-aligned group suggested his standings in the May 22 contest had slightly improved after the tiff. The lieutenant governor is leading in public and private polls, and there's a tight race for the second spot in a likely July runoff.
Kemp and the other three GOP candidates for governor – former state Sen. Hunter Hill, business executive Clay Tippins and state Sen. Michael Williams – also backed stripping the Delta break. Williams had actively fought to remove the incentives weeks before the NRA tiff exploded.
But Kemp wrote a letter to Cox earlier this month claiming that Cagle had defied his broad promise to spike legislation that would benefit Delta because a separate mass transit measure included language that could exempt jet fuel from a local transportation tax.
“As those of us involved in Georgia politics like to say: You’ve been Casey Cagled,” wrote Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state. “He tells you one thing while cutting secret deals to help Delta down the line.”
Cagle’s office said the legislation wouldn’t benefit Delta and his campaign said the letter smacks of desperation. Cagle’s campaign manager, Scott Binkley, accused Kemp of being “clueless” about the legislation.
Critics, including leading Democrats and corporate boosters, worried aloud that the maneuvering had cost Georgia a shot at Amazon's second headquarters or other big-name economic development recruits.
While the NRA’s endorsement remains coveted among Republicans - the group also backed state Sen. David Shafer’s bid for lieutenant governor - the Democratic contenders are feuding over just how much they loathe the gun group.
House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and former state Rep. Stacey Evans have repeatedly clashed over votes on issues the NRA has backed and each vowed to be the gun lobby's enemy.
Both have also accused Republicans of playing politics with Georgia's largest private employer. Several high-profile business leaders and Delta executives contributed to each of their campaigns shortly after Cagle's stance.
Abrams had a four-word response to the news of the NRA's endorsement: "He can have it."
Other recent AJC coverage on the Delta flap:
Georgia legislators punish Delta, but Amazon may be watching
GOP spin to Amazon: NRA dustup shows Georgia's 'diversity’
Amid NRA-Delta tax break battle, others woo Delta headquarters
Georgia Democratic candidates used to court pro-gun votes