Torpy at Large: If you get the vapors, GA governor’s race isn’t for you

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Georgia's governor's race is already one for the history books, but it's also seeing record numbers of requests for absentee ballots.

Last year, after progressive activists shouted down Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Evans at a convention, I wrote about the left eating its own and had one thought: Hello, Governor Cagle.

Tells you what I know.

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My point at the time was that left-wing activists denigrating centrist candidates and party members was short-sighted and would help relegate the party to prolonged second-class status.

I consider myself a moderate with conflicting political urges — liberal in some ways, conservative in others. I think government is best when both parties have a stake in the power and must compromise. More people get something out of the action, even if it isn’t all they wanted. It resembles life.

But all that is mostly a memory left to civics classes, said Alan Abramowitz, an Emory University professor who helped coin the phrase "negative partisanship."

“It means that dislike of the opposing party is so strong, that even if you have reservations about your party, you won’t cross lines,” he said.

Well, Stacey Abrams ended up burying the other Stacey in the runoff, which was inevitable because Evans is white and Abrams is black, as are a large majority of Democratic primary voters. But Abrams' 3-1 landslide showed something else was afoot: Dem voters, white and black, were reacting to Trump and his increasingly bellicose manner.

On the Republican side, front-runner Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle ended up getting flattened by his base, although his demise wasn’t as quick and humane as Stacey E’s.

Cagle’s crash came in a tortuous series of astounding and absurd circumstances that may go down as one of the state’s more bizarre races.

“It’s been a fascinating election,” Clay Tippins, an unsuccessful GOP candidate, told me before adding perhaps the understatement of the season. “You’ve had a lot of events you don’t normally see.”

Cagle, the assumed GOP designee, was the state’s longtime second banana who locked up most of the campaign donations and his party establishment. In other words, he was Jeb Bush Jr.

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In May 2018, the Republican candidates for governor were Casey Cagle (from left), Hunter Hill, Brian Kemp, Clay Tippins and Michael Williams, who are shown participating in the Atlanta Press Club Republican primary debate for governor at GPB studios in Atlanta.

In May 2018, the Republican candidates for governor were Casey Cagle (from left), Hunter Hill, Brian Kemp, Clay Tippins and Michael Williams, who are shown participating in the Atlanta Press Club Republican primary debate for governor at GPB studios in Atlanta.

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In May 2018, the Republican candidates for governor were Casey Cagle (from left), Hunter Hill, Brian Kemp, Clay Tippins and Michael Williams, who are shown participating in the Atlanta Press Club Republican primary debate for governor at GPB studios in Atlanta.

Because the 2018 gubernatorial election was for an open seat, GOP candidates came out of the woodwork, hoping Cagle might stumble. To prove their mettle, they touted their military records, pickup trucks and guns. I fully expected them to take testosterone tests to prove who was the most manly.

Best at this game turned out to be Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who having overseen some of the nation's strictest voting laws, decided he had gubernatorial timber. And by timber, I mean he's stiff as a Macy's mannequin.

To overcome this, Kemp hired an ad man who had him point a shotgun at a youth, fire up his chainsaw and jump into his truck so he could pick him up some illegals. “Yup, ah said it,” he said with a Hee Haw intonation and a knowing grin.

“He was able to portray himself as the anti-establishment candidate, which belies the reality that he’s been an establishment figure,” said David Worley, former head of the Georgia Democratic Party, who has sat on the state’s election board with Kemp for the past eight years.

Bang! Next thing you know, Kemp's "anti-establishment" ads put him in the runoff with Cagle. And then luck walks into his life in the form of Tippins, a political newbie and former Navy Seal who fell short in the GOP primary but was dead set on a mission — taking down Cagle.

The Lite Guv had double-crossed Tippins’ uncle, a state senator, by pushing through some legislation that Cagle could only support by holding his nose. Cagle did it to prevent another candidate from getting campaign donations — routine political stuff that we know happens all the time. But Tippins pulled the curtain from this scheme: He had his recorder secretly running as Casey made this admission, and then Tippins released it to the media.

By the time Trump put Cagle out of his misery with a last-minute endorsement of Kemp in the runoff, Cagle was already quivering, mortally wounded on the battlefield.

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Georgia gubernatorial Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams and Republican candidate Brian Kemp greet each other before a live taping of the 2018 gubernatorial debate for the Atlanta Press Club at the Georgia Public Broadcasting studio in Atlanta on Oct. 23, 2018.

Georgia gubernatorial Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams and Republican candidate Brian Kemp greet each other before a live taping of the 2018 gubernatorial debate for the Atlanta Press Club at the Georgia Public Broadcasting studio in Atlanta on Oct. 23, 2018.

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Georgia gubernatorial Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams and Republican candidate Brian Kemp greet each other before a live taping of the 2018 gubernatorial debate for the Atlanta Press Club at the Georgia Public Broadcasting studio in Atlanta on Oct. 23, 2018.

The ensuing race between Abrams and Kemp has been a classic in that you have black/white, woman/man, liberal/conservative. Kemp has roved the state, trying to stir up rural voters, as Abrams has tried to rally those who have not voted before. You even have Oprah, Barack Obama, and The Donald jetting down here.

And the election is tight. Most polls have the candidates neck and neck as early voting has more than doubled from 2014 — 1.8 million Georgians as of Friday.

There has been an adage that Democratic candidates need a 30-30 to win — at least 30 percent of the state’s turnout must be African-American (early voting says it is) and they must pull in 30 percent of the white vote (we’ll see about that).

Democrats are enthused that Abrams has brought out thousands of non-voters. And a look at data shows that many Republican counties are also cranking out large numbers of early voters.

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People wait in a long line to vote on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, at the Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration office in Marietta.

People wait in a long line to vote on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, at the Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration office in Marietta.

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People wait in a long line to vote on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, at the Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration office in Marietta.

A poll about a month ago by Landmark Communications had Kemp with a 48-46 lead over Abrams, a statistical dead heat. Subsequent polls have seen similar results.

“Georgia has seen for the first time in 20 years that the state is in competition,” said Mark Rountree, president of Landmark.

Rountree, a Republican, said “there’s a one-third chance for each scenario,” meaning an Abrams victory, a Kemp win or a runoff. Later in the conversation, he backed away a bit from an outright Abrams victory being as likely as an outright Kemp win. He said early indications are that white voters aren’t hitting the 30 percent Democratic mark.

He said the so-called “independent” voters in Georgia “tend to be behavioral Republicans who are mad at their party.”

But he added that he found that those favoring this year's Libertarian candidate are Democrats by a 3-1 margin. The Libertarian is polling at just 2 or 3 percent of the total, but if those votes melt away in the polling booth (as they often do) for one of the main parties, then Abrams could benefit, given Rountree's analysis.

All told, this should make for interesting watching Tuesday night.

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