In their battle for the Republican nomination for Georgia governor, the campaigns of Brian Kemp and Casey Cagle on Monday argued over whether Cagle – in a secret recording by a former political opponent – questioned the sanity of GOP primary voters or other candidates in the race.
Secretary of State Kemp’s campaign released a 50-second chunk of audio it said was part of a larger recording by Clay Tippins during a meeting with Cagle in May.
Part of the recording released by Tippins included Lt. Gov. Cagle telling the former gubernatorial hopeful he pushed through a bill in the state Legislature that was bad “a thousand different ways” in order to keep another opponent from receiving millions in campaign donations.
In the new chunk of audio released Monday, Cagle says: “The issues you talk about are the issues I care about as well. The problem is in a primary — and you and I are just talking off the record, frank — they don’t give an [expletive] about those things.”
It’s not clear who the “they” is in the second sentence above, and the campaigns of Kemp and Cagle made different claims.
In a statement emailed along with a link to the 50-second recording, Kemp said it “exposes Cagle’s real opinion of Republican voters in Georgia. Like Hillary Clinton, Casey Cagle thinks the electorate is a basket of deplorables who lack the intelligence and attention span to comprehend all of the high-level policy proposals that he’s saving for the General Election.”
The Cagle campaign argued he was talking about other candidates in the first round of the Republican primary for governor.
“Casey’s not ashamed of what’s on that tape,” said a spokesperson, Brian Robinson.
Some of Cagle’s statements in the tape appeared directed at Kemp.
“This primary felt it was who had the biggest gun, who had the biggest truck, and who could be the craziest,” Cagle says in the recording.
This line, according to Robinson, illustrates Cagle’s frustration with a focus during the primary campaign on Kemp’s controversial ads featuring many guns, an explosion and a proposal to deport immigrants in his own truck.
“They have gimmicks and stunts, and they were trying to be the craziest,” Robinson said.
Both Kemp and Cagle have at least basic plans on their campaign websites for items like improving Georgia’s economy and developing rural parts of the state.
Brant Frost, a conservative activist, said those ads were simply an effective way to communicate Kemp’s commitment to expanding gun rights and cracking down on illegal immigration.
Cagle says those are goals of his as well. On Monday morning, a few hours before Kemp’s campaign released the new recording, Cagle’s campaign announced National Rifle Association President-elect Lt. Col. Ollie North would headline three rallies in Georgia on Saturday.
“Most folks don’t have time to watch a two-hour discussion on C-SPAN or listen to a three-hour podcast,” said Frost, vice president of the Georgia Republican Assembly, a group of activists often critical of Republicans in the state for not taking more conservative stances on issues like abortion, gun rights and legal protections of religious expression.
Frost supported state Sen. Hunter Hill in the first round of the primary, but he now backs Kemp.
He said the Republican primary voters he knows care most about the issues Kemp focused on in his controversial ads, like gun rights and immigration.
“They take those issues seriously. It’s not pandering to them,” he said. “They really believe that these are serious issues that need to be addressed in a serious way.”
Frost says he wishes both campaigns would spend more time explaining what they want to do if elected.
In response to a request for a longer version of the 50-second recording, and additional context, Kemp spokesperson Ryan Mahoney said: “We will continue to create the contrast and release important information in the home stretch. Cagle should be prepared to give multiple apologies to Georgia voters.”