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Trump-backed candidate wins Georgia governor nomination

Trump-backed candidate wins Georgia governor nomination
© Kemp for Governor

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) completed his surprise comeback on Tuesday, claiming the Republican nomination for governor after winning late endorsements from President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I don't trust everybody in the White House' JPMorgan CEO withdraws from Saudi conference Trump defends family separations at border MORE and Vice President Pence.

Kemp, serving his second term as secretary of State, bested Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle (R) in a low-turnout runoff two months after Cagle finished first in the primary, The Associated Press reported.

Cagle called Kemp to concede the race about an hour and a half after polls closed, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. In the end, the contest wasn't even close. With 36 percent of the vote reporting, Kemp had taken 69 percent. Cagle finished with 32 percent. 

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"Obviously, tonight did not turn out quite the way that we had anticipated, but this journey does not go unanswered," Cagle told supporters at his watch party, according to the Journal-Constitution. "We ran a phenomenal campaign."

The results are a reversal from the May 22 primary, when Cagle finished first with 39 percent of the vote. Kemp, less well-known and funded, took about 26 percent of the vote in the primary, while four others split the remainder.

Kemp will now face Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams, a former minority leader in the Georgia state House and the first African-American woman to be nominated by a major party to run for governor.

Cagle, who had support from term-limited Gov. Nathan Deal (R) and the National Rifle Association, appeared headed for the nomination early on, even as polls during the runoff showed Kemp closing the gap.

But days before voters headed to the polls, Trump offered Kemp an unexpected endorsement on Twitter. 

“Brian Kemp is running for Governor of the great state of Georgia. The Primary is on Tuesday. Brian is tough on crime, strong on the border and illegal immigration,” Trump wrote last week. “He loves our Military and our Vets and protects our Second Amendment. I give him my full and total endorsement.”

Over the weekend, Pence campaigned with Kemp at a rally in Macon.

The endorsement, seemingly out of left field, had Republican officials scratching their heads.

Trump apparently arrived at his decision to back Kemp after talking with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Citi — Latest on Hurricane Michael | Trump, Kanye West to have lunch at White House | GOP divided over potential 2020 high court vacancy Administration announces plan to streamline oil and gas extraction in national forests The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — How will Obama impact the midterms? MORE, himself a former Georgia governor, some of these officials said. Others pointed to Nick Ayers, Pence’s chief of staff, a longtime political operative from Georgia who briefly considered running for governor himself. Ayers has denied involvement in Trump’s endorsement.

The GOP race also featured leaked recordings in which Cagle was heard complaining about the Republican primary and saying he had backed a bill he knew to be "bad public policy" because of political reasons. 

— Updated at 8:56 p.m.