A month ago, Kemp launched his first TV ad with a pledge to create a program to "track and immediately deport all criminal aliens" and toughen penalties on people in the country illegally. He said his anti-gang initiative could enhance the illegal immigration crackdown.
“We are going to be targeting criminals,” he said. “I’m not concerned with what demographic they come from.”
The proposal fits a familiar strategy for Kemp, who has echoed President Donald Trump's tough-talking initiatives since entering the race with a "Georgia First" platform a year ago. Trump made targeting MS-13 and other violent gangs a linchpin of his criminal justice policy.
Statistics on gang membership and gang-related crime aren't easily available. But a 2016 story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution documented a rise in gang influence in everything from narcotics to identity theft.
In that story, the FBI's Atlanta Safe Streets Gang Task Force estimated that there were up to 20,000 gang members in metro Atlanta – a significant jump since 2000. Nationally, a 2008 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that about 5 percent of violent crime victims were assaulted by gang members.
Pressed on why he’s seizing on this issue, Kemp said he didn’t need detailed statistics to show him gang crime was on the rise. He cited news coverage of gang-related violence across the state, including in his hometown of Athens.
“When I’m reading about a shooting every other day, or every third day, in my hometown newspaper – for a parent that’s a crisis,” he said.
At Tuesday’s event, Kemp also picked up the endorsement from Reynolds, one of the more influential political figures in Cobb County.
The county has long been one of the biggest troves of votes in Republican primaries, but changing demographics have Republicans on the defensive. Hillary Clinton won the county in 2016, marking the first time it flipped blue since Jimmy Carter’s presidency.
More: GOP hopefuls for Georgia governor make immigration a top issue