By Greg Bluestein
Secretary of State Brian Kemp's campaign for governor got a major boost Saturday from Vice President Mike Pence, who called him the best partner for the White House in an hourlong event that cast Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle as mostly an afterthought.
Instead, Pence and other speakers who rallied the crowd of more than 1,500 at the Macon Coliseum called Kemp the only candidate who can keep Georgia's top office in GOP hands and defeat Democrat Stacey Abrams in November.
"Brian Kemp stands for Georgia values," said Pence. "I believe that not only is he going to win come Tuesday, but he's going to win in November."
Kemp, too, sharpened his focus on the general election. He thanked Pence and President Donald Trump for their endorsements, and said he'll energize Republicans to surge to the polls against Abrams because he's a "Trump conservative who will put Georgians first."
"I am tired of politically correct liberals like Stacey Abrams who are offended by our faith, our guns and our big trucks," said Kemp. "This election is about trust. Who do you trust to do the right thing even when no one is looking?"
At campaign stops around the state, Cagle has sharpened his attacks on Kemp, saying definitively that he would lose to Abrams if he wins the GOP nomination. He has also countered with what he calls the "other gold star" endorsement in the race: Gov. Nathan Deal's support.
Pence's visit was part of a double-whammy this week that has jolted the GOP runoff for governor that ends Tuesday. Trump gave Kemp a surprise endorsement on Wednesday, saying the secretary of state has his "full and total" support.
They were devastating setbacks for Cagle, who was already trailing in the polls and grappling with fallout from a secretly made recording. That audio featured him saying he supported "bad public policy" to undercut another rival.
Clay Tippins, the former GOP candidate for governor who made that recording, stuck to the same theme as the other speakers as he urged Republicans not to let up.
"Tuesday night is the kickoff of the hardest mission we've had yet. We've shaken things up the last few weeks -- myself included," he said. "Now it's time to bring things together."
The Middle Georgia area surrounding Macon has been targeted by the Kemp campaign as a key pickup opportunity. Cagle carried Bibb County in May's primary with 35 percent of the vote, compared to Kemp's 26 percent.
The president is overwhelmingly popular with the conservatives who will decide Tuesday's runoff -- an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll showed he had an 80 percent approval rating among Georgia GOP voters -- and Pence urged the crowd to show up in force.
He earned wild applause when he said putting Kemp in the Governor's Mansion would deliver to Georgia "the same type of leadership that Trump brought to the White House."
"Brian Kemp is the real deal," said Pence. "He puts his family first. And when Brian Kemp is governor, he'll always put Georgia families first."
(c)2018 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)