With Georgia’s Republican gubernatorial primary less than two weeks, two big questions remain. The first is just how much support can Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle muster in the final days of the election? The most recent AJC polling had him garnering 41% of the vote, by far the strongest showing in the field. His closest opponents are Secretary of State Brian Kemp and former state senator Hunter Hill with 10% and 9%, respectively.
It is not surprising that Cagle commands a lead of this magnitude. He went into the race with the highest name recognition among the candidates and his profile was only elevated by the 2018 Georgia Legislative Session and his spat with Delta over the NRA. He has raised more money than any candidates in the governor’s race on either side of the aisle, earning nearly $7 million in contributions. He ended the most recent fiscal reporting period with $4.5 million in the bank.
Clearly, Cagle does not lack for resources. Cagle recently suggested that avoiding a runoff is “mathematically impossible,” a wise move to set realistic expectations even though he very well may avoid a runoff anyway. A third of expected GOP voters are undecided, so he would only need to attract roughly one third of that third to win outright on May 22. Armed with an endorsement from the NRA, a great deal of wealthy backers, and enviable name recognition, there is no reason to think a runoff is an inevitability.
The second question is, if the race does go to a runoff, who will face off against Cagle? Kemp and Hill are the two likeliest options given their poll numbers and fundraising, as the other two serious contenders in the race, Clay Tippins and Michael Williams, garner less than 5% support. Between Kemp and Hill, Hill seems to have the most upward trajectory – he went from having little to no name recognition across the state to competing against a sitting Secretary of State who has been on a statewide ballot several times. Though Kemp’s name recognition is only second to Cagle’s, he typically is not in the news for the best reasons. When it comes time to vote, GOP primary voters may not be so quick to forget his missteps.
Right now, my money is on a runoff. With how heated the primary has been so far, a runoff would likely be brutal and track similar to the broader fight on the national level for the soul of the Republican Party.
As a Democrat, I look forward to the fight playing out while we get an additional two months to rally behind our chosen candidate. Both candidates in the theoretical runoff will be forced to spend millions of dollars to make their case while the Democratic candidate can unite supporters and prepare for the general election. A runoff would be the best case scenario for Democrats and worst for Republicans, so do not be surprised if there is a new ad blitz from Cagle in these final two weeks.