At NRA rally, Cagle rewarded for move to ‘kill’ Delta tax break

NRA President-elect Oliver North, right, speaks next to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and his wife Nita at the Governors Gun Club Saturday, July 14, 2018, in Kennesaw, Ga. (JASON GETZ/SPECIAL TO THE AJC)

NRA President-elect Oliver North, right, speaks next to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and his wife Nita at the Governors Gun Club Saturday, July 14, 2018, in Kennesaw, Ga. (JASON GETZ/SPECIAL TO THE AJC)

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle earned the NRA's endorsement after he followed through on his vow to "kill" a tax break for Delta Air Lines. And the Second Amendment rights group rewarded him on Saturday for that headline-grabbing move.

National Rifle Association President-elect Oliver North stumped with Cagle at three events around the state, saying it backed him over Secretary of State Brian Kemp in the July 24 runoff because Cagle had an “airtight record” on firearms issues that led lawmakers to rebuke the Atlanta-based airline.

“He stood with the NRA when we were under attack by the far left. And thanks to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, one of those corporations paid $40 million for it,” North said at a rally at the Governors Gun Club in Kennesaw. “Casey, you don’t back down. You never back down.”

He's referring to Cagle's decision to orchestrate the demise of a jet-fuel tax exemption that would have saved Delta $40 million a year. The airline, the state's largest private employer, enraged conservatives by ending a group discount for the gun rights group.

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

Cagle's move also led to an outcry from Democrats and business leaders who worried that snubbing the state's largest employer would tarnish Georgia's pro-business brand and jeopardize the hunt for Amazon's second headquarters. Some executives quickly donated to Democratic campaigns.

For Cagle, though, the Delta snub has also helped him leverage support with conservatives in the long GOP nomination contest that ends next week. Carolyn Meadows, the NRA’s interim president, said the group’s members won’t forget his stance.

“When a certain airline tried to bully those of us who are NRA members, he stepped up to the plate and said, ‘That’s not going to happen,’” she said.

The rally attracted hundreds of supporters at the sprawling Kennesaw facility, which bills itself as the largest indoor gun club in the nation. It was the second of two events that also brought North to Savannah and Gainesville. And Cagle, for his part, roared to the crowd how he was “tired of conservatives getting kicked around.”

“Are we never going to back down, or what?” he said, to whoops of applause. “The NRA doesn’t back down, and Casey Cagle as your next governor isn’t going to either.”

Cagle and Kemp, who sports an endorsement from the state gun rights organization, have increasingly competed over who is the most vocal supporter of the Second Amendment as they scrap for support for conservatives who will decide the GOP nominee.

Kemp aired an ad showing him pointing a shotgun toward a young man purporting to be his daughter's suitor, and he has also called for a sales tax holiday for guns and ammunition over the July Fourth holiday.

Cagle sent backers a lengthy dispatch assuring them he supports "constitutional carry" — which would let gun owners conceal and carry handguns without a permit — and has run his own TV spot featuring a shotgun toting man berating a Kemp lookalike.

And both have rushed to the defense of Gainesville-based gunmaker Honor Defense after it claimed financial services firms disrupted some of its credit card payments. The two vowed to take executive acion to prevent other gun manufacturers from facing similar treatment.

The victor will face Democrat Stacey Abrams, who has taken the opposite approach: She is defying decades of conventional party strategy by opposing the NRA and calling for new firearms limits.