(CNN)Republican voters in Georgia responded to a vicious primary runoff by showing thunderous support for Trump-backed candidate Brian Kemp over Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, won a resounding victory Tuesday after a bruising nine-week showdown filled with secret recordings, outrageous ads and nasty name-calling.
Needless to say, Southern gentility was gone with the wind in this race.
Critics say the brutal runoff took its toll on the GOP and showed division among the ranks. Republicans in my home state say nothing could be further from the truth. Georgia GOP Chairman John Watson tells me Tuesday’s victory shows there’s “no lack of clarity” and certainly “helps in the healing.”
After declaring victory, Kemp wasted no time setting his sights on his Democrat opponent, Stacey Abrams, whom he referred to as an “out-of-touch, radical liberal.” Abrams will be a formidable candidate, with national money and manpower, running to be the first black female governor in America. I’m told the GOP has a solid ground game in place but is not taking anything for granted.
Cagle, endorsed by Gov. Nathan Deal, began the race as the heir apparent. Dominating in the polls, he had high name recognition and tremendous financial backing. Things started going south when he was secretly recorded discussing his political motivations for backing “bad public policy” and describing the GOP primary as a race to be “the craziest” candidate with “the biggest gun” and “the biggest truck.”
President Donald Trump put his finger on the scales for Kemp over the weekend when he tweeted Kemp has his “full endorsement” and “He will be a GREAT governor!”
On the campaign trail, Kemp touted himself as the “politically incorrect conservative” who won over voters with ads featuring guns, chain saws and a pickup truck to “round up criminal illegals.”
Cagle started out strong, but his support proved to be a mile wide and an inch deep. In April, he had a 31-point lead in the polls, yet he lost by a wide margin. Kemp peaked at just the right time.
When I was growing up in the Peach State, Democrats were always the party in power, and had been since Reconstruction. The shift came in 2002 when Republicans began to take control.
Georgia is a right-of-center state, and I don’t see that changing in this year’s midterms. Trump won Georgia by 5 percentage points in 2016, and if the economy is strong in November, that bodes well for Kemp.
As Republicans celebrate the Kemp victory, they’re hoping for a quick end to one outrage. Republican state Rep. Jason Spencer had to resign after making a disgrace of himself in Sunday night’s episode of the Showtime series “Who Is America?” when he dropped his pants and repeatedly used the N-word. The show’s producers pranked Spencer into believing he was taking part in an anti-terrorism class. The video is beyond disturbing.
Republicans across the state said they were disgusted by the performance, and House Speaker David Ralston called for Spencer’s resignation.
Watson, the state GOP chairman, tells me Republicans will come together in a unity rally Thursday to embrace Kemp as the nominee. He said he’s not concerned about the divisive primary’s impact on the party’s chances in the general election because he “would rather have a battle-tested candidate over one who had a cakewalk any day.”
I agree. Fierce primaries create fierce general candidates. But one thing’s for sure, the stage has been set for a historic showdown in Georgia in the fall.