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Trump-backed candidate Kemp wins GOP governor runoff
Cagle throws support to Kemp after loss
Kemp wins
Georgia Republican gubernatorial runoff candidate Brian Kemp goes on stage to declare victory against Casey Cagle during an election night party, Tuesday, July 24, 2018, in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/John Amis)

Casey Cagle threw his support behind Brian Kemp after a blowout loss 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. “ 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.

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

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.

Elected officials in Hall County and North Georgia spoke to The Times 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 (Hawkins is a dentist) with Nita and the kids. He’s a good man — he’s a good family man.”

Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, who wrote to The Times while on a trade mission to China, congratulated Kemp on his solid victory.

“His was an excellent campaign that engaged individuals across the state on all levels,” Miller said. “I congratulated Brian and I’m confident his administration will be one that continues to put Georgia first on all levels.”

Sen. John Wilkinson, R-Toccoa, said the Republicans will have their work cut out for them between now and November.

Abrams “is going to have a very well-funded campaign. She’s very bright and very articulate. She’s the polar opposite of me politically, but she’ll make a compelling case with her constituents. There’s a reality that Hillary Clinton carried some counties in the presidential election we didn’t expect.”

Whoever succeeds in November, it will be a significant shift of power away from Hall County and Northeast Georgia, which has enjoyed eight years under longtime Hall resident Gov. Nathan Deal.

One Northeast Georgia politico who stayed neutral in the governor’s race jumped in for Kemp on Tuesday: U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Georgia.

“Georgia has spoken, and I congratulate Brian Kemp on representing Republicans in the governor’s race this fall. Under the Gold Dome and in Washington, I’ve seen Georgia Republicans translate our compassion for all Georgians into action that improves lives,” Collins said. “We work to promote prosperity, liberty, and dignity, and we do that with as much unity as  we have conviction. I grew up down the road from Governor Deal, I watched his leadership usher in unprecedented success for our state, and I look forward to Brian Kemp continuing that legacy in 2019.”

This report will be updated.