Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, left, and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle face off July 24 in a runoff for the Republican nomination for governor.

Georgia GOP governor’s race: What you need to know

The brutal, bitter battle for the Republican nomination for governor ends next week when voters decide between Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

The winner of the July 24 runoff faces Democrat Stacey Abrams in November.


Cagle: The 52-year-old Gainesville native attended Georgia Southern University, and later he owned a tuxedo rental shop and founded a community bank. He was first elected to the state Senate in 1994 at the age of 28.

Kemp: The 54-year-old Athens native graduated from the University of Georgia and ran several real estate, agribusiness and financial services firms. He was first elected to the state Senate in 2002.

Biggest claim to fame

Cagle: Made history in 2006 when he defeated Ralph Reed in the primary and Jim Martin in the general election to become the state’s first-ever Republican lieutenant governor.

Kemp: He orchestrated the “SEC primary,” a group of mostly Southern states that banded together in 2016 to hold votes on the same day to influence the presidential nomination process.

Favorite talking points

Cagle frames himself as a conservative standard-bearer who will take on powerful interests, and he likes to say his election will usher in an era when “conservatives getting kicked around is over.” He pledges to cut taxes by $100 million in his first months in office and add 500,000 jobs during his first term.

Kemp’s campaign mantra is “putting Georgians first,” and he often touts his willingness to say politically incorrect things, ending with a catchphrase: “Yep, I just said that.” He vows to adopt a state spending cap, reduce business regulations and sign the nation’s strictest abortion regulations.

What they don’t want to talk about

Cagle avoids mention of a secretly recorded conversation that has rocked the race. In that audio, Cagle tells a former opponent that he supported a private school tax credit that he described as bad in a “thousand different ways” to undercut another rival. He also described the GOP primary as a race over who “could be the craziest.”

Kemp faces questions and legal complaints about his role in a troubled seed-crushing plant based in northeast Georgia that threatens to dent his campaign image as a successful entrepreneur. And critics have called for a federal probe into his campaign donations from contributors who are regulated by his office.

Who’s funding them? 

Cagle is the overwhelming favorite of the “Capitol crowd” — the well-connected lobbyists, donors and political action committees that have helped him raise more than $10.5 million over the past year. He also has support from prominent Republicans, including GOP mega-donor Bernie Marcus.

Kemp has not kept pace with Cagle’s fundraising, raising roughly half of his rival’s total haul, but he’s taken in enough cash to stay competitive. At least $325,000 of it came from people or businesses that fall under the oversight of his office.

What they’re about to get into and why it matters

The governor is the most powerful position in the state and has the final say on Georgia’s $26 billion budget, the hundreds of pieces of legislation that pass each year and the state’s economic development direction.

The next governor will likely appoint dozens of judges and tap hundreds more to serve on boards that will set the agenda on an array of policies that include environmental regulations, infrastructure investment and higher education oversight.

The state’s top office was in Democratic hands for generations, until Sonny Perdue’s upset victory in 2002 ushered in a Republican overhaul of state government. He was succeeded by Gov. Nathan Deal, another Republican who cannot run for a third term.

2018 campaign 

As part of its coverage of the issues and the candidates in this busy election year, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week is offering breakdowns of the races in the July 24 runoff. Look for more at

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