ALBANY — As the July 24 Republican primary runoff for three of the state’s top offices draws closer, the campaign rhetoric has grown edgier and the gloves have come off — mainly in the gubernatorial race between Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

In other races, state Sen. David Shafer faces former state Rep. Geoff Duncan in a battle for the lieutenant governor’s office, while Rep. Brad Raffensperger and Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle square off in the race for Secretary of State.

Meanwhile, the Democratic nominees are settled: former House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams in the governor’s race; Sarah Riggs Amico is in the chase for lieutenant governor, and veteran former congressman John Barrow is set in the secretary of state contest.

The first shots were fired in the governor’s race last month when former GOP hopeful Clay Tippins released secretly recorded audio of a conversation he and Cagle had in regard to HB 217, which raised the cap on tax credits for donations to private schools from $65 million to $100 million.

According to The Gainesville Times, on the recording Cagle said while discussing the bill, “It ain’t about public policy. It’s about (expletive) politics. There’s a group that was getting ready to put $3 million behind (GOP hopeful ) Hunter Hill. Mr. Pro-Choice. I mean, Mr. Pro-Charters, vouchers.”

The vote on that bill apparently staved off an education policy super PAC, The Walton Foundation, that was preparing to put $3 million behind the gubernatorial campaign of Hill, who finished third in the May 22 primary behind Cagle and runner-up Brian Kemp.

Cagle had called HB 217 bad legislation before voting for the bill, and the tape put a dent in Cagle’s campaign.

Cygnal, an independent, Alabama-based firm, released its latest private data to the Times on the Georgia gubernatorial primary in late June. The results showed Cagle leading Kemp by a single point among likely runoff voters.

“Primary runoff elections are often a battle of inches, not miles,” The Times wrote, reporting the poll analysis from Brent Buchanan, president of Cygnal. “The 2018 Georgia Republican primary runoff for governor is setting up to be just that.”

The Cygnal poll has the race at 44-43 in favor of Cagle, with a margin of error of 3.4 percent. The pollster surveyed more than 800 voters in metro Atlanta, the surrounding area and in south Georgia. Of those surveyed, more than 600 were “definitely voting,” 99 were “probably voting” and only 37 didn’t plan to vote.

According to The Times, the telephone surveys included both landlines and mobile phones, and the sample was almost an even split between men and women but skewed male.

Today, Kemp is hitting the stump hard, vowing to visit 37 cities in just seven days as part of his “Georgians First Bus Tour.”

“With just weeks until the July 24 Republican primary runoff, we are hitting the road to connect with conservatives in every part of our state,” said Kemp. “My campaign is built on a singular promise to put hardworking Georgians first — ahead of the special interests, status quo, politically correct, and those that are here illegally. I encourage supporters, local leaders and Georgia voters to join us along the way as we work toward victory at the ballot box.”

Kemp will visit Albany on Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. at the Eggs Up Restaurant on Dawson Road.

As the time until the runoff grows shorter, the elbows are growing sharper between the campaigns with the Cagle campaign taking aim at what it called Kemp’s “universal access” health care plan.

In an email, the Cagle campaign claimed the program Kemp called for included absolutely no work requirements and would have far exceeded the scope of Obamacare, which covered only families below 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

“Throughout Secretary and Senator Kemp’s 16-year career as a political insider, he’s never been a fiscal conservative,” Scott Binkley, campaign manager for Cagle for Georgia, said. “In fact, during Secretary Kemp’s multiple terms in the Georgia state Senate, he was widely characterized as the most liberal Republican in the caucus. Before Obama proposed his government takeover of health care, Kemp was proposing Obamacare on steroids, or KempCare.

“KempCare would’ve enrolled hundreds of thousands of more enrollees than Obamacare’s mandates. Brian Kemp’s government health care plan would have put Georgia taxpayers on the hook for billions in new spending. Now he’s pretending he’s a ‘Trump conservative.’ We need look no further than his old website to see that’s not remotely true.”

“My staunch opposition to expanding government-controlled health care has never wavered,” said Cagle. “As governor, I’ll continue to advocate for work requirements and conservative health care reform. This is an important issue, and we need rock-solid conservative leaders who know where they stand.”

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