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Trump-backed Kemp wins GOP governor runoff
Brian Kemp
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, Republican primary candidate for governor approaches the podium to address supporters during an election night results party Tuesday, May 22, 2018, in Athens, Ga. - photo by Associated Press

Casey Cagle threw his support behind Brian Kemp after a blowout loss — including in his own county — on Tuesday in the Republican runoff.

Cagle conceded the race in a call to Kemp before taking the stage at his Atlanta election night event to speak with his supporters. In a tearful speech to morose supporters, Cagle said he was “the most blessed man alive” as he was surrounded by his family.

He left the deep bitterness of the runoff with Kemp behind almost immediately on Tuesday.

“(Kemp) has been a dear personal friend of mine for a long, long time,” Cagle said. “I know that when you’re in the arena, sometimes you get the boxing gloves out and there’s a lot of hits that go on. Within that context, I called Brian and I told him, ‘I hope the hits weren’t too hard on you and I hope the hits weren’t too hard on me.’”

He also called on his voters to rally behind Kemp during the general election against Democrat Stacey Abrams.

“He is a person that I believe undeniably that we have to rally around,” Cagle said of Kemp.

It was a graceful exit from the race for a candidate initially assured of victory. Huge name ID, deep pockets and two decades spent in state office, Cagle was the presumptive frontrunner and favorite early in the Republican primary. He had the support of a wide swath of Georgia lawmakers.

But the train started to slow just after the May 22 primary, when Cagle failed to take more than 50 percent of the vote in his home county of Hall. And while he took a clear lead in the primary, his performance left some supporters nervous about the day ahead.

And then, just a couple of weeks after the primary, Clay Tippins let drop the first of his secret recordings of a conversation between himself and Cagle. The comments from the lieutenant governor helped to solidify a major attack from Kemp: That Cagle was a “bought and paid for” career politician.

A slow drip of bad news from the tapes led up to President Donald Trump’s endorsement of Kemp — an endorsement that more are speculating came after involvement from former Gov. Sonny Perdue and even Sen. David Perdue — that appeared to seal Cagle’s fate.

From frontrunner to limping, Cagle was nothing short of crushed at the ballot box on Tuesday, with unofficial results showing Kemp took almost 70 percent of the vote.

Indeed, Forsyth County fell in line with much of the rest of Georgia. With all precincts reporting, Kemp beat Cagle with a resounding 70.05 percent of the vote in the county to Cagle's 29.95.

Cagle allies were split on the reasons for his loss. Some laid the blame on his campaign staff, while others simply said there’s often no way to predict where a race will head before it’s over.

One longtime supporter of Cagle said the polling showed he was recovering his position in the race after the Tippins tapes were released and was on track to win — until the Trump endorsement came down from D.C.

Elected officials in Hall County and North Georgia spoke about the outcome at Cagle’s event on Tuesday.

Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, said he believes Cagle’s character should have been made a bigger part of the race.

“I don’t think it came out,” Hawkins said. “I’ve known him since before he was in the Senate. He’s been a patient of mine with Nita and the kids. He’s a good man — he’s a good family man.”