National News

Pence Renews White House Embrace for Georgia’s Insurgent Running for Governor

Posted July 21, 2018 9:54 p.m. EDT

MACON, Ga. — By touting the family values and conservative leadership of Brian Kemp at a Saturday rally, Vice President Mike Pence provided the insurgent candidate for governor in Georgia his second endorsement from the White House in four days.

President Donald Trump surprised some Republican officials last week by publicly supporting Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, in Tuesday’s primary runoff against Casey Cagle, the state’s lieutenant governor. And since then, Kemp has doubled down on his pledge to be a “politically incorrect” governor, playing up the gun-toting, truck-driving, Everyman image that some party leaders worry could cost them the general election.

On Saturday, Pence riled up Kemp’s fervent supporters and posed for selfies afterward while country music blared from the speakers.

“Brian Kemp will bring the kind of leadership to the Statehouse that President Donald Trump has brought to the White House,” Pence told the crowd of at least 1,000 people inside the Edgar H. Wilson Convention Center.

Kemp spoke briefly, sticking to his vows to bring an outsider’s perspective, prioritize small-business owners over special interests and embrace a tougher stance on illegal immigration. He also declared he would be the Republicans’ best shot at defeating the Democratic candidate, Stacey Abrams, a former state lawmaker who is trying to become the nation’s first black female governor.

“Georgians are sick and tired of these politically correct liberals like Stacey Abrams who are offended and outraged by our faith, our guns and our big trucks,” Kemp said.

The rally was one of the first in which Kemp appeared as the front-runner in the runoff. Cagle has stumbled since leading the five-candidate primary by double digits two months ago. In a secretly recorded conversation that was made public this summer, he said tht the primary had become about “who could be the craziest.” Another recording, released in late spring, revealed that he had supported a bad bill to undermine a political rival.

Some political observers wonder whether Kemp will adopt a more centrist tone — in an attempt to win moderate voters — should he defeat Cagle. But Charles Bullock III, a professor of political science at the University of Georgia, said Georgia’s demographics make it possible for Kemp to win the general election without softening his campaign’s strong rhetoric, which Democrats have criticized as divisive.

If Kemp wins the runoff, he will talk about attracting suburban voters, said Kerwin Swint, a professor of political science at Kennesaw State University. “But the biggest part of his campaign,” Swint said, “will be cranking out the Republican base — Trump voters. And being in the Trump tent, so to speak, will allow him to really crank that up.”

On Saturday night, Trump reiterated his support for Kemp, tweeting that the candidate “is very strong on Crime and Borders, LOVES our Military, Vets and the 2nd Amendment. He will be a GREAT Governor!”

Kemp’s campaign has aimed to reach voters in all of Georgia’s 159 counties, and those at the Macon rally said they had driven from all corners of the state to see him stand alongside Pence.

John Wood, a retired analyst at Robins Air Force Base, said he supported Kemp because he “appeals to my genre: country boy, outsider, doesn’t go with the status quo, loves hunting and fishing.”

Pence urged the crowd to have their friends vote in Tuesday’s runoff, which is expected to have low turnout. And it was the vice president’s appearance, said Steven Williamson — who drove over two hours from Augusta — that would lead Mr. Kemp to victory.

“America trusts Vice President Pence. They trust Trump. They trust their opinions,” Williamson said. “Now they trust Kemp.”