Cagle, Kemp scrap over blame for nine-week runoff

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Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp emerged as the top finalists in Tuesday's election.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp have scrapped over gun rights, immigration crackdowns and which candidate for governor is the most effective conservative. Now they are adding blame for the state’s nine-week runoff to their lengthy list.

For decades, Georgia law required runoffs just three weeks after an initial election if no candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote. But a federal judge’s 2013 ruling that found Georgia didn’t give Americans living abroad enough time to mail their ballots led to the current nine-week marathon.

The prospect of a drawn-out July 24 GOP runoff between Cagle and Kemp – while Democrat Stacey Abrams works to unify her party and focus on the November vote – has unnerved many Republicans. Which is likely why Cagle invoked the issue in one of his sharpest post-primary attacks against Kemp.

“For all the voters horrified at the thought of nine more weeks of politics, you can thank Brian Kemp’s office for bungling the federal court case that forced these long runoffs on the state,” said Cagle, who finished with about 39 percent of the vote in last week’s primary.

The election schedule became a problem for Georgia in 2012 after the U.S. Department of Justice filed a federal lawsuit taking issue with the state’s practice of holding runoffs three weeks after an election.

It based its complaint on the country’s Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986, which established a 45-day window for overseas voters to return their ballots. A judge agreed with the Justice Department and ordered an extended voting schedule.

That led to an overhaul in 2013 that shifted the next year's primary from July to late May, making it the earliest Georgia primary vote in recent state history.

Gov. Nathan Deal, House Speaker David Ralston and Cagle all agreed to the move, saying it would bring a more robust turnout. Lawmakers approved a similar calendar for this cycle.

In response to Cagle’s charge, Kemp highlighted that sense of consensus around the timing.

"It's no surprise that career politician Casey Cagle is attacking the run-off calendar championed by Gov. Deal,” he said. “He spent $8 million and dropped dramatically in the polls. The more people see of Cagle, the less they like. His quarter century in politics ends in nine weeks."

More recent AJC coverage of the Georgia race for governor:

ExploreGeorgia Democrats test a more liberal comeback strategy 
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ExploreKemp might owe ‘Jake’ – and Cagle - thanks for spot in Georgia GOP runoff 
ExploreA 'deportation bus’ candidate screeches to last-place finish 
ExploreWhy Stacey Evans’ HOPE-themed campaign ran out of steam