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Georgia Election: Cagle, Kemp headed to runoff for GOP nomination

Georgia Election: Cagle, Kemp headed to runoff for GOP nomination

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle will face Secretary of State Brian Kemp in a July runoff, after the two emerged as the top finalists Tuesday in the five-man race for the Republican nomination for Georgia governor.  Whoever emerges from the grueling nine-week runoff will face a November showdown against former House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, a competition that will test whether the state is competitive after more than a decade of Republican rule.  Cagle has prepared his run for governor for a decade and had the highest profile in the Republican field thanks to three statewide victories and robust fundraising. But despite campaign fundraising that vastly exceeded his opponents, he failed to get a majority of the vote and avoid a runoff.  FOLLOW LIVE: Primary election results RELATED: Stacey Abrams wins Democratic primary ISSUES: Where the candidates for Governor stand He’ll face Kemp, who used a series of provocative ads to help him emerge from the crowded field. One TV spot showed him brandishing a shotgun while talking to a nervous-looking young man, and in another be boasted that he’d “round up criminal illegals” in his own pickup truck. At his campaign party in an Athens hotel, Kemp told hundreds of cheering supporters he would work to relentlessly paint Cagle as a moderate.  “He’s not a leader. He’s a puppet,” said Kemp. “Yeah, I just said that. He’s not fighting for us. He’s fighting for those with deep pockets whose interests are not ours.” Cagle tried to win over conservatives with promises to sign a “religious liberty” measure and won the endorsement of the National Rifle Association after he pledged to “kill” a tax break for Delta Air Lines when it cut ties with the pro-gun lobby.  But he also faced criticism from rivals who branded him an ineffective career politician who won’t aggressively champion conservative values. And though Cagle tacked to the right on some issues, he also refused to follow opponents who pledged deeper tax breaks or stricter abortion limits.  In his victory speech in his hometown of Gainesville, Cagle said he would “continue to fight for the value system of Georgia - for the Second Amendment as well.” A race to the right Cagle’s rivals tried to outflank him – and each other – at every turn during the yearlong race. Democrats hope the GOP field was pulled so far from the center it gives them an opening to flip the state’s top office for the first time since 2002.   The Republican race featured what seemed like a constant effort by the candidates to outdo one another with soaring campaign promises to cut or eliminate taxes and new initiatives to expand gun rights or crack down on illegal immigration. Each of the candidates tried to carve out his niche. Former state Sen. Hunter Hill, a military veteran, vowed to eliminate the state income tax over seven years and make deep cuts to the state budget. He finished in third place, urging Cagle and Kemp to embrace his tax policy.  'We do not have forever to turn our state back toward fiscal sanity,” said Hill in a somber concession speech. “If our leaders tackle these issues, our best days are ahead.' Clay Tippins, an executive for a consulting firm, emphasized boosting third-grade reading levels and expanding Georgia’s medical marijuana program. He also said the state’s workforce needed to be retooled to better deal with a growing population.  And state Sen. Michael Williams made his loyalty to the president – he was the first state official to endorse Donald Trump’s candidacy – a central theme of his bid to run as the most ardent conservative. A Delta dispute The race got its biggest jolt in February after Delta ended a discount program with the NRA, leading Cagle to orchestrate the demise of a lucrative tax break on jet fuel that would have benefited the Atlanta-based airline. All four of his GOP rivals also supported the move, though some accused Cagle of politicizing his decision. Democrats assailed the GOP, raising concerns that punishing the state’s largest private employer could jeopardize Atlanta’s quest for other economic development deals. That helped win over Myra Busch, a Dunwoody retiree who said she voted for Cagle because he stood up to the corporate heavyweight. “I dind’t like that - I wanted them to stay out of politics,” said Busch. “And Cagle won that vote. That’s the big reason I voted for him.”  Soon, gun rights emerged more sharply as a dominant theme in the vote.  The leading candidates backed a “constitutional carry” provision that would let gun owners conceal and carry handguns without a permit. And Hill, a former U.S. Army Airborne Ranger, was branded a traitor by another contender, executive Clay Tippins, for briefly suggesting he would raise the age limit to buy assault rifles.  ‘Criminal illegals’ But guns were far from the only social conservative strain that factored into the competition. Most of the candidates agreed to support “religious liberty” legislation that Deal vetoed, tussled over who would pass the staunchest abortion restrictions and tried to one-up each other on immigration policy.  The final stretch of the contest focused heavily on immigration. Cagle abruptly announced he would send Georgia National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. Kemp trumpeted an ad boasting he’d “round up criminal illegals” in his own pickup truck. And Williams embarked on a “deportation tour” with a gray-clad bus that attracted demonstrators at many of his stops.  Only Cagle staked out positions with an eye toward the general election, thanks to a commanding lead in the polls that offered him more flexibility than his rivals.  He entered the race with a pledge to cut taxes by $100 million – a more modest proposal than many rivals – and aired mostly sunny campaign ads touting the economy and workforce development initiatives. As some opponents took hard-line positions to his right, he rejected calls to eliminate more tax breaks, fund broad new pay increases for local law enforcement and adopt some social legislation.  Kemp is sure to sharpen his attacks. He’s angled for the same rural vote that powered Trump’s victory in Georgia, and he focused his final pitch on red-meat issues such as new crackdowns on illegal immigration and a tough-on-crime initiative aimed at gangs. But he also faces vulnerabilities over his business record and blunders he oversaw that include the accidental disclosure in 2015 of Social Security numbers and other private information of more than 6 million voters to media outlets and political parties.  -Staff writers Jennifer Brett, Amanda Coyne and Tamar Hallerman contributed to this report.

Georgia Election: Stacey Abrams wins Democratic primary

Georgia Election: Stacey Abrams wins Democratic primary

Former House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams won the Democratic nomination for Georgia’s top office on Tuesday, defeating ex-state Rep. Stacey Evans and advancing her quest to become the nation’s first black female elected governor.  She will face one of two Republicans in November in the race to succeed Gov. Nathan Deal, a competition that will test whether the state is truly competitive after more than a decade of GOP rule.  “We are writing the next chapter of Georgia history, where no one is unseen, no one is unheard and no one is uninspired,” a jubilant Abrams said, adding: “And I know for the journey ahead, we need every voice in our party - and every independent thinker in the state.” Abrams attracted national attention, big-name endorsements and millions of dollars in outside spending with her “unapologetic progressive” platform to flip the Georgia governor’s office for the first time since 2002.  FOLLOW: Primary election results RELATED: Cagle, Kemp headed to runoff for GOP nomination ISSUES: Where the candidates for Governor stand She overcame a stiff challenge from Evans, who tried to frame herself as the more ardent progressive. Evans fueled her campaign with nearly $2 million of her own money, pummeling Abrams with criticism for supporting a 2011 Republican-backed measure that cut awards to the HOPE scholarship.  Each of the Democratic and Republican candidates tried to carve out his or her niche in a race that attracted more than $22 million in campaign contributions – and flooded the airwaves with more than $13 million in TV ads.  Though her Republican opponent is not yet known - Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle will face Secretary of State Brian Kemp in a July 24 showdown - the Georgia GOP quickly attacked her over her financial background.  “I’ve tried to make sense of her personal and professional finances, and my head is spinning,” said Georgia GOP chair John Watson, who called on her to release her tax returns and other financial records.  Abrams owes more than $200,000 in debts, including about $54,000 to the IRS. She has said she’s on payment plan to pay back the debt, and has sought to frame her struggles as evidence she understands the problems that Georgians face. Evans, meanwhile, quickly endorsed Abrams and vowed to help Democrats form a united front against President Donald Trump and state Republicans. 'The Democratic party is trying to find a unified voice to rally against Trump,” said Evans. “We must do that.'  Shifting strategy The Democrats largely abandoned centrist talk to appeal instead to left-leaning voters with a promise of implementing gun control, increasing financial aid for lower-income families and taking steps toward the decriminalization of marijuana. That’s a stark contrast from more moderate appeals from a generation of Democratic candidates for governor, who often sought the National Rifle Association’s endorsement and touted fiscally conservative policies. They are echoing many in the party’s base who insisted on that shift. Claudia Colichon, who lives in north Atlanta, said she demands candidates who embrace mass transit funding and fight for gun control. “There needs to be a progressive change,” said Colichon. “People are seeing that conservative policies aren’t working.” Abrams drew support from Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and a string of other high-profile Democrats and raised about two-thirds of her campaign funds from outside the state. National groups chipped in another $2 million worth of ads supporting her.  Evans mounted a lower-key campaign focused on local endorsements and smaller gatherings. The election-eve activities highlighted their differences. While Abrams held a large get-out-the-vote rally, Evans slung beers for supporters at an Atlanta bar.  United and divided Both Abrams and Evans united around a host of issues, including expanding Medicaid, growing the medical marijuana program and continuing Deal’s criminal justice overhaul. And both are outspoken opponents of “religious liberty” measures they say amount to state-sponsored discrimination.  The two attorneys also both were the products of hardscrabble childhoods that shaped their views of government, served together in the state House in their 30s and had up-close views of the tragic toll of substance abuse on their families with siblings who faced legal trouble. But they’ve clashed on other issues, including how aggressively they oppose the NRA, how they would handle the state’s $26 billion budget and even how they would address Stone Mountain and other Civil War monuments.  The biggest policy divide, however, centered on the HOPE scholarship, which provides tuition aid to Georgia college students who maintain a “B” average.  Evans said Abrams betrayed her party by working with Republicans seeking cost-cutting moves to reduce the program’s awards in 2011. Abrams countered that more “seasoned” Democrats sided with her in that vote because they knew negotiating with the GOP would prevent deeper cuts.  A new philosophy The other central disagreement in the race involved strategy.  Evans banked on a more conventional Democratic plan to win over independent voters and moderates, particularly suburban women, who have fled to the GOP. Abrams staked her campaign on energizing left-leaning voters, including minorities who rarely cast ballots.  The two competed for support in an increasingly diverse electorate and at times racial tensions surfaced.  There was the moment last year when Abrams supporters shouted down Evans at an Atlanta conference of progressive activists with chants of “support black women.” Evans, who is white, drew scorn with a video at Ebenezer Baptist Church that faded her face into the image of Martin Luther King Jr. For Democrats, the divisive primary for governor was somewhat novel. Jason Carter, the party’s 2014 nominee, faced no Democratic competition. And former Gov. Roy Barnes steamrolled over opposition in 2010 during his failed comeback bid.  The party has also largely avoided fierce primary battles between black and white candidates for governor since the 1990 vote, when then-Lt. Gov. Zell Miller trounced former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young.  Evans, who represented a Smyrna-based district, faced an uphill battle from the moment she entered the race. Black women form the largest bloc of voters in the Democratic primary, and Abrams’ campaign predicted African-American turnout overall could make up 65 percent of the vote.  To make inroads, Evans staged a slate of smaller rallies and meet-and-greets, and she relied heavily on prominent black officials to spread her message. She also spent far more heavily on TV than Abrams, inundating the airwaves with a HOPE-themed pitch.  In her victory speech, Abrams moved to unite the party by praising Evans’ supporters. She pledged to repeal a campus carry law, expand the HOPE scholarship, improve workforce training programs and strengthen labor unions.  And she tried to appeal to more centrist voters by saying she would be the “state’s public education governor” – emphasis on the word “public.”  “Together we will shape a future with a boundless belief in the historic investment of children who are at the very core of every decision we make,” she said.  - Staff writer Ariel Hart contributed to this report.

NEW DETAILS: 7 face murder charges in Carroll County motel shooting

NEW DETAILS: 7 face murder charges in Carroll County motel shooting

Seven men face murder charges in connection with a deadly shooting at a Carroll County motel. Villa Rica police found the victim lying on a second-floor landing at the Fairbridge Inn Express on Ga. 61 around 7 p.m. Tuesday, Capt. K.L. Shaddix said early Wednesday in a news release. Brian Cook, 28, of Villa Rica, was pronounced dead on the scene. During the course of their investigation, police located and arrested five people. Warrants were secured for two more, Shaddix said. It appears the victim was shot after an altercation in a motel room. Police said Ramon Higgs, 29, also of Villa Rica, went to the motel and Cook accompanied him. Higgs was seen on video surveillance entering a second-floor room while Cook remained outside. A confrontation inside the room turned violent, according to police. Higgs then ran from the room with several men chasing him, Shaddix said.  “As Cook began to run away he was grabbed by the suspects and shot while on the second-floor landing where he died from the injuries,” he said in the release. “Higgs was also shot but was able to flee the scene.” Investigators learned six Villa Rica men were inside the hotel room at the time of the shooting. Khaaliq Sims, 24, Isiah Roberts, 20, Alvon Darby, 20, and Kyron Doby, 23, were all located and arrested. Two others, Briahious McPherson and Ricardo Joiner, both 19, have not been caught. All six face two counts of aggravated assault and a single count of murder. Roberts was arrested on an additional charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Shaddix said police also charged Higgs with murder and aggravated assault as well as marijuana and weapon possession. Higgs was treated for a gunshot wound at Grady Memorial Hospital and released.  The investigation resulted in two unrelated arrests, Shaddix said. Police contacted the occupants of the room next door to the shooting and reportedly located suspected marijuana. Two people, including a 16-year-old boy, were arrested on possession charges. The other suspect, identified as 24-year-old Jaylon Stanton of Baton Rouge, was also charged with first-degree forgery after he was allegedly found in possession of a large amount of suspected drugs and counterfeit cash. The search continues for the two remaining murder suspects. Anyone with information on their whereabouts should contact Villa Rica police at 678-785-1100 or call 911.  — Please return to AJC.com for updates. In other news: 

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Get WSB Washington Insider Jamie Dupree's take on what's happening in Washington delivered to your inbox every weekday.
Get WSB Washington Insider Jamie Dupree's take on what's happening in Washington delivered to your inbox every weekday.
In flurry of legislative action, Congress delivers pair of bipartisan bills to Trump

With the support of a few dozen Democrats, Congressional Republicans notched a pair of legislative victories for President Donald Trump on Tuesday in the U.S. House, giving final approval to a plan to roll back certain regulations on smaller banking institutions, as well as voting out a bill to help terminally-ill Americans seek new medicines and treatments.

Known as the “Right to Try” legislation, that measure would open new avenues to experimental drugs for those people who have found no cure for a life threatening disease or medical condition.

“As President Trump said in his State of the Union Address this year, [More]