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Candidates run to the right in GOP primary
Tom Crawford

We’ve talked about the difficulty facing Democratic primary voters who must choose between two candidates for governor holding similar positions on basic issues important to Democrats.

That situation is more than doubly difficult in a Republican primary where the five leading candidates are all trying to run to the right of each other.

The basic dynamics of the primary haven’t changed.  Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is the frontrunner, with a commanding 30-point lead in the polls over his closest challenger – but he is still about 10 points shy of winning without a runoff.

That leaves Cagle hoping to pick up those last few points while the others fight and claw to see who’s the most conservative and most deserving of forcing their way into a runoff.

The struggle becomes almost comical at times.

Several weeks ago, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed a law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks' gestations and gives the state the most stringent restrictions in the nation.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp promptly tweeted, “I back Mississippi's ban on abortions after 15 weeks and vow to sign the toughest abortion laws in the country as your next governor.”

“If abortion rights activists want to sue me . . . bring it!” he tweeted.  “I'll fight for life at the Capitol and in the courtroom.”

Shortly after Kemp’s challenge was issued, state Sen. Michael Williams said he would go even farther and sign legislation to ban abortions after six to eight weeks.

“Brian Kemp's latest statement is another attempt to latch on to my conservative agenda after witnessing the positive response I received,” Williams said.

“Georgia can ban abortion after a heartbeat is detected at six to eight weeks if we have a fearless conservative leading our state,” Williams added.

Then there was the case of Atlanta’s historic Clermont Hotel, which for years harbored a topless lounge in its basement.

A bill passed during the 2015 legislative session provided a tax credit for the restoration of historic buildings.  Cagle did not vote on the bill, but he did make an appearance at the 2016 reopening of the Clermont.

That left Cagle open to attack from Clay Tippins, a business consultant and political novice, who ran a TV spot declaring: “Casey Cagle talks about his Georgia values, but he championed tax cuts for a strip club.”

It is on the issue of gun rights that the struggle to differentiate the candidates becomes most desperate.

Cagle is more or less the default leader here, having secured the endorsement of the National Rifle Association for his insistence that Delta Air Lines lose a lucrative tax break this year for ending a discount air fare program for NRA members.

That hasn’t stopped the other candidates from declaring their bona fides on the issue and insisting they are really most deserving of that NRA endorsement.

Hunter Hill, a former state senator and Army Ranger, made the mistake of suggesting that he would support raising the minimum age to purchase firearms from 18 to 21.

In the wake of a horrific mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students or faculty were gunned down by an assault weapon, that wouldn’t seem to be an unreasonable position.

But not for Tippins, who aired a commercial making this inflammatory statement: “Hunter Hill talks like he’s Rambo, but he’s really a Benedict Arnold who’s for gun control. Just ask the NRA.”

“Clay Tippins claims to be an outsider, but he campaigns as a slimy politician,” said a Hill spokesman.

Even for Congressman Jody Hice, who’s as far to the right as they come, it was a bit much. Hice had to step in and serve as the voice of reason.

“Likening Hunter Hill for Governor -- an honorable veteran who led soldiers on 3 combat tours overseas -- to ‘Benedict Arnold’ (our nation’s first traitor) is just plain wrong,” Hice said on Facebook. 

The GOP primary has devolved into a battle between the far-right and the far-far-right.

How does a voter choose?

(Correction:  Last week’s column about the Democratic primary stated that Stacey Abrams served on the board of NARAL Pro-Choice Georgia and did free legal work for women seeking abortions. It was actually Stacey Evans who took those positions. We regret the error.)

Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an internet news service at that reports on state government and politics. He can be reached at