By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) – A candidate backed by President Donald Trump won a two-man Republican primary run-off for governor on Tuesday, a local media projection said, in a race that became a proxy battle between the president and the state’s popular Republican governor, Nathan Deal.
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, whose hardline campaign approach dovetailed with Trump’s, was projected to defeat Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, who had the endorsement of Deal, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Kemp earned the president’s backing last week, a surprise endorsement that analysts said gave him an edge in a race between the two conservatives.
With about 38 percent of the votes reported, Kemp had a nearly two-to-one lead over Cagle, official results showed. Kemp had about 68 percent of the votes counted to Cagle’s 32 percent.
Kemp will face Democrat Stacey Abrams, who is vying to become the first black woman to serve as a U.S. state governor in what is expected to be one of the most hotly contested races in November’s midterm elections.
Trump carried Georgia by 5 percentage points in 2016.
The Republican nominating race in Georgia was marked by fiercely negative campaigning.
In what became the first round of the Republican primary in May when no candidate won at least 50 percent of the vote, Cagle, 52, bested Kemp, 55, by 13 points to set up the top-two showdown. But Cagle came under fire in recent weeks after Kemp and the candidate who had finished fourth released secret recordings in which Cagle acknowledged supporting a bad policy for political reasons and said the primary appeared to be a contest to see who could be “craziest.”
That last comment likely referred to Kemp’s political advertisements, in which he jokingly threatened a teenage boy who wanted to date his daughter with a shotgun and promised to “round up” illegal immigrants in his truck.
Deal, who cannot run again due to term limits, endorsed Cagle last week, which was countered two days later when Trump posted his support for Kemp on Twitter.
Kemp tweeted a photo of Trump on Tuesday morning, saying he would “unapologetically stand” with the president. Cagle, meanwhile, wrote on Twitter, “We need a leader who is a bulldog for GA not a lapdog for D.C.”
Both candidates have embraced Trump and have similar policy positions, including support for gun rights, lower taxes and tough anti-illegal immigration measures.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Leslie Adler)