President Donald Trump’s last-minute endorsement of Secretary of State Brian Kemp in the GOP runoff for governor came as a surprise to Georgia voters of all stripes.
For supporters of Kemp, it confirmed what they already believed. Backers of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, however, voiced reactions ranging from indifference to trepidation.
“I’ve got to really re-evaluate,” said Robert Pelon, a 62-year-old retiree in Athens who was leaning toward Cagle before the president’s endorsement. “There must be some reason that the president came out and said, between the two that are supposedly Trump supporters, this is the better candidate.”
As of last week, the race for the GOP nomination for governor was very close, and it could easily be swayed by Trump’s endorsement on Wednesday. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Channel 2 Action News poll of likely voters released last Friday shows Kemp leading 44 percent to 41 percent, with about 15 percent of voters still undecided.
While Cagle has racked up endorsements from state GOP leaders including Gov. Nathan Deal, the endorsement from Trump is likely to be a shot in the arm to Kemp’s campaign. Both candidates have vied to show loyalty to the president, and the poll showed that for 21 percent of Republicans, the biggest issue in the race is which candidate is a stronger ally to Trump.
Some voters who were already planning to support Kemp said Thursday that the endorsement bolstered their decision, while others saw the endorsement as a non-issue.
“I did not make that choice because of Donald Trump — I didn’t know that he endorsed Kemp,” Griffin resident Annette Mouchet said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a factor.”
Varner Holmes of Roswell said she was already planning to vote for Kemp, but that Trump’s endorsement helps distinguish between the two candidates.
“It just enhanced who I was going to vote for,” Holmes said. “They’re both pro-life, they’re both pro-Second Amendment. … I’ve listened to them both, and they both are pretty much for the same thing.”
Meanwhile, hard-line Cagle supporters remain unswayed by the president’s endorsement.
“I don’t rely on endorsements to make my decision,” Jeannie Fambro said at Cagle’s rally Thursday afternoon in Henry County. She and a group of employees from the local Westbury Health and Rehab came to support Cagle because they appreciate his long-standing support for nursing homes in Georgia, Fambro said.
At an event Thursday morning in Covington that featured state Sen. John Wilkinson, R-Toccoa, and Cagle as speakers, Covington resident Tricia Hise said she supports Cagle and doesn’t think the Trump endorsement affects many voters.
“People who were going to vote for Brian Kemp will vote for Brian Kemp, and people who were going to vote for Casey Cagle will vote for Casey Cagle,” she said. “I support our president, but I disagree with his decision.”
Sue May of Valdosta said that, in her view, Deal’s endorsement of Cagle was more meaningful than Trump’s.
“I think Deal has done a good job, and I understand that Cagle will do a better job. I will not vote for Kemp. I just don’t think I can trust him to be governor,” she said. “(Trump) can endorse who he wants to, but that doesn’t have anything to do with my opinion.”
The two GOP candidates are planning last-minute campaigning pushes over the weekend, including a rally for Kemp in Macon that will feature Vice President Mike Pence. Over 153,000 ballots have already been cast during the early-voting period that ends Friday, ahead of Election Day on Tuesday.
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