The two Republicans vying for the party's nomination for governor took verbal jabs at each other Thursday night during a televised debate at Columbus State University as the campaign enters its final weeks.
The most recent poll shows that Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, the frontrunner in the May primary, and Secretary of State Brian Kemp are in a close battle to see who will take on Democratic challenger Rep. Stacey Abrams in November.
Though civil during the debate that drew about 150 mostly Republican spectators, the two men made it clear they are going to continue to push back on each other in the final days of the at-times heated campaign.
"The choice is clear," Cagle said. "If you want an individual who is just like President Trump, and also like Gov. (Nathan) Deal and says what he means and gets things done, then I am your candidate. ... Like my opponent who does not have a record he can run on in November and be successful is a major issue."
Kemp said voters continue to see "all the nonsense" from Cagle.
"He has been falsely attacking me on all these issues, that quite honestly are false," Kemp said. "He knows better than that and it's wrong. Certainly, the state deserves better."
Kemp kept pounding Cagle for his establishment ties and said that Georgians are ready for a politically incorrect governor.
"I think people are ready for a politically incorrect person to say and talk about the issues we have before us — track and deport, stop and dismantle gangs, public safety reform, building off what Gov. Deal has done with criminal justice reform to keep our families safe," Kemp said. "Sometimes leaders need to be politically incorrect to talk about what federal prosecutors are saying that Georgia has become a home to the Mexican drug cartel and a distribution hub."
Cagle stressed that he is a candidate who will give the Republicans the best chance to retain a governor's office they have held for the last 16 years.
"One thing that is for certain, every poll that has been issued shows that I am the right candidate to win in November," Cagle said. "And it's important that we nominate someone who is electable, but can get the job done and does what he says he will do. I can tell you that doing a bad job as an insider does not make you an outsider."
Cagle was the leading vote getter in the primary with nearly 39 percent of the statewide vote. Kemp finished second in the six-man race with 25.5 percent of the more than 600,000 votes cast in the race. Cagle had about 80,000 more votes than Kemp. The winner faces Abrams in the November general election.
Alabama-based Cygnal released a poll in late June showing that Cagle had 44 percent of those polled, while Kemp was at 43 percent. Cygnal surveyed more than 800 voters in metro Atlanta, the surrounding area and South Georgia.
The debate, the first since the primary, is one of three scheduled between now and the runoff. The other two will be held in Atlanta. It was sponsored by Aflac and TSYS and supported by WRBL-TV, PMB Broadcasting and Columbus State University.
The runoff is July 24, but early voting started this week. Early ballots can be cast at the Columbus City Services Center on Macon Road next to the Public Library.