May 22, 2018 Athens - Brian Kemp, a republican candidate running for Georgia governor, speaks to members of the press during Brian Kemp Election Night Victory Party at Holiday Inn Athens-University Area on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

On trail, Kemp lets secret recording speak for itself

Brian Kemp’s latest campaign ad seizes on the secret recording of his rival. His social media posts trumpet the Casey Cagle audio about “bad public policy” and a race for the “craziest.” His surrogates bring it up at every turn.

But on the campaign trail, the secretary of state largely steers clear of the clips.

Consider the scene in Carrollton on Tuesday, where a crowd of more than 100 gathered in an agricultural hall for BBQ sandwiches, soft drinks and a Kemp stump speech.

He was preceded by Lori Tippins, the wife of Clay Tippins, who used his iPhone to surreptitiously record his private conversation with Cagle. In that audio, Cagle said he supported a measure that was bad “a thousand different ways” to hurt another rival.

When Kemp took the stage, he only made oblique references to the audio that’s helped fuel his rise in the polls.

“They know I will do the right thing when nobody’s watching,” said Kemp, who faces Cagle in the July 24 runoff. “People can feel it. They know it. This race is a dead heat. Completely wide open. And that’s good for us.”

A secretly made audio recording reveals that Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle backed a controversial education bill that he admitted was poor policy to prevent a rival candidate for governor from getting millions of dollars in support.

Kemp’s campaign, meanwhile, is highlighting the audio every chance it can. It released another snippet this week in which Cagle talked about the escalating race to the right. And a 30-second ad that debuted Monday features Kemp discussing the recording directly to the camera. 

Cagle’s campaign welcomes that strategy. Scott Binkley, the lieutenant governor’s campaign manager, dismissed Kemp’s “silliness.”

“Yes, Casey said Kemp has run a crazy campaign of nothing but gimmicks,” said Binkley. “He absolutely did. Everyone agrees.”

Some other takeaways:

-It was Lori Tippins’ first Kemp campaign event, and she brought her daughter and other family members with her to the barbecue. It was the first we’ve heard that Tippins and his clan has formally endorsed Kemp, though it comes as no surprise.

-Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill gave Kemp credit for Donald Trump’s victory. You heard that right.

“If not for Brian Kemp, Donald Trump would not be president today. He had the vision to put together the SEC primary. And when the president won those states, it was over,” he said.

Kemp orchestrated the SEC primary in 2016, a bloc of mostly southern states that held presidential votes on the same day. The regional vote brought every leading candidate to Georgia in the days before the primary.

-Kemp unleashed on a familiar target: Democrat Stacey Abrams, her party’s nominee for governor. She’s raised most of her campaign cash from outside the state, and Kemp tried to paint her as too liberal for Georgia.

“Money will pour in from New York and California. But it won’t matter,” he said. “This race is about the soul of the state. And we won’t have to change ours.”


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.

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