July 12, 2018 Atlanta: Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the two remaining Republicans in the race for Georgia governor, face off in the Atlanta Press Club debate at the GPB studios on Thursday, July 12, 2018, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

The Jolt: After GOP governor debate came the real fireworks 

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp met for a frosty debate Thursday that revolved around the secret recording and allegations of illegal campaign contributions. 

But the sparks really flew in the halls outside the Georgia Public Broadcasting studios after the showdown.

First came Kemp, the runner-up in the May primary who has used the audio to gain traction in the July 24 vote. He railed against Cagle’s “flat lies” about Kemp’s investment in a troubled seed-crushing business that’s facing a litany of lawsuits, and campaign contributions from firms he regulates.

“What he’s trying to do is get you to run down this rabbit hole so you won’t talk about the tape, which is a fact,” Kemp said.

“He talks like the tape doesn’t exist, because somebody shouldn’t have taped him. Well, he shouldn’t have said those words if he didn’t mean them,” he added. “And you can’t take back your own words. I have the truth on my side.”

Kemp then mocked Cagle for accusing him of “colluding” with media outlets and Clay Tippins, the vanquished GOP candidate who secretly recorded the lieutenant governor.

“It’s disappointing that Casey Cagle is getting to be like Hillary Clinton. He’s gone after my crazy supporters that have guns, trucks and chainsaws. He’s saying I’m colluding. And he’s saying I’m sexist. That’s the same thing that Hillary Clinton said about Donald Trump. Georgians know better.”

And he claimed he was the best candidate to top Democrat Stacey Abrams in November because, he said, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard is ready to bring criminal charges against Cagle “as soon as this race is over.”

(Kemp’s allies have called for federal bribery charges; Cagle says that’s laughable. Howard and other local prosecutors have declined comment.)

“People in the Republican primary want an unapologetic conservative they can rally behind,” Kemp said. “The worst thing we can have happen is have a John Kerry/Hillary Clinton type candidate like Casey Cagle being our nominee and conservatives sit at home.”

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

The stage was soon Cagle’s, and he went before the cameras to slam Kemp for accidentally releasing confidential voter information to media outlets and political parties, and criticized him over a still-brewing legal battle with a financier who says he defaulted on a $500,000 loan

“He has failed to do his job,” said Cagle. “And if you fail to do your job, you cannot ask for a promotion to be the next governor of the state of Georgia.”

Cagle then pivoted to the recording, the constant undercurrent in the Atlanta Press Club debate. 

He said his remarks in the tape, in which he acknowledged supporting “bad public policy” to undercut another rival, were taken out of context. It was a “set up” orchestrated by Kemp and Tippins to ruin him, he claimed, and he said he’s certain more snippets are to come. 

“Who does this? Who is a person that is that evil in their heart, to come in and mislead someone in a way that leads them down a path, to get them to say certain things, that they can then shape a narrative around?” said Cagle.

“It’s just an evil act. A very evil act. It’s a dirty trick, and it’s wrong, and I can’t believe the news would continue to print this kind of horrible act.”

So would Cagle not publicize a similar tape of Kemp, if one existed? 

“This is the important thing: It’s clear now that Secretary Kemp and his team were clearly behind the taping and the whole activity that went on in my office. It was a set up, and it was a set up in a way that only he could be a part of.”

(Kemp’s campaign was not involved in the release of the first part of the recording, but sent a second, shorter clip to media outlets this week in a press release.)

He was then asked if he believed Kemp would lose to Abrams in November.

“There’s no question in my mind. There’s not a poll out there that shows he can win. It’s indicative of the kind of campaign he’s run, and it’s indicative of his record,” said Cagle. “There’s no question.”


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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.