Georgia Primary Runoff: Casey Cagle and Brian Kemp Fight to a Bitter Finish

ATLANTA — Georgia Republicans will pick their nominee for governor in a primary runoff on Tuesday, choosing between two longtime public officials who have been jockeying to prove their conservative bona fides and their fidelity to President Trump.

Polls will close at 7 p.m. Eastern, and we will have live results shortly after. Here’s our guide to the race:

Why is the race close?

Although Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle was the far-and-away first-place finisher in the primary’s initial round of voting in May, he wasn’t able to avoid Tuesday’s runoff against Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state.

Mr. Cagle’s campaign has mostly skidded since, with his bid heavily damaged by the revelation of a secretly recorded conversation in which he said the Republican primary had become about “who had the biggest gun, who had the biggest truck, and who could be the craziest.” Mr. Cagle was also recorded acknowledging that, in an effort to thwart a rival’s fund-raising efforts, he had supported a measure that he judged to be poor public policy.

A real estate deal of Mr. Cagle’s has also brought scrutiny.

Mr. Cagle tried to repair some of the damage last week by rolling out the endorsement of Gov. Nathan Deal, who is popular in his final year in office. Two days later, Mr. Trump threw his support behind Mr. Kemp, who appears to have gathered substantial momentum in recent weeks and has described himself as “a politically incorrect conservative.”

But in their efforts to appeal to the Republican voters who will decide the outcome of this bitter campaign, Mr. Cagle and Mr. Kemp have both embraced deeply controversial positions, pledging to support “religious liberty” legislation that Mr. Deal blocked and producing provocative commercials about immigration.

So will the president’s pick matter?

It probably will to a certain point, but Mr. Trump’s blessing hasn’t always proven decisive in Republican primaries in the South. Just last year, the president’s preferred candidate for a United States Senate seat from Alabama limped into a primary runoff, only to be defeated. Last week, though, a Trump-backed congresswoman easily won a primary runoff in Alabama, and in June, an insurgent candidate who earned the president’s 11th-hour backing defeated one of South Carolina’s most durable political figures.

[Here’s how other pro-Trump and anti-Trump Republicans have fared.]

As in many conservative-tilting states, Mr. Trump is popular among Republicans in Georgia. A January poll commissioned by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed Mr. Trump’s approval rating among Republicans at 81 percent — higher than both Mr. Deal and the Republican-dominated Legislature.

Although Mr. Trump’s endorsement likely aided Mr. Kemp, it surprised many Republican officials and strategists, and it worried some who believe that Mr. Kemp would be a weaker candidate than Mr. Cagle in the general election.

What’s next?

The winner will face a formidable opponent in Stacey Abrams, a former legislator who is among the best-funded and most well-known Democrats to seek statewide office in the South in recent years.

Although Georgia leans Republican — Mr. Trump carried the state with a little over 50 percent of the vote in 2016 — Ms. Abrams is hoping to capitalize on Georgia’s ongoing demographic changes and her proudly progressive platform to become the first Democrat to be elected governor in 20 years.

[Read more about Stacey Abrams.]

And no matter who wins the Republican nomination on Tuesday, count on both parties to portray their general election rivals as extremists who would stray from decades of sensible leadership by Democratic and Republican governors alike.

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