By BEN NADLER, Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — You can’t trust him, but you can trust me.
That was the main message the two Republicans vying to become Georgia’s next governor tried to convey Sunday in a televised debate with just over a week left before their heated primary runoff is decided July 24.
Secretary of State Brian Kemp and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle squared off at WSB-TV studios in Atlanta.
Just as he had done in television ads and in recent debates, Kemp continued to assail Cagle over a secret recording released last month in which Cagle can be heard saying he backed what he called “bad public policy” to block monetary support from a political rival.
The recording was made without Cagle’s knowledge by former candidate for governor Clay Tippins. Snippets of the conversation have since been released to the media by Tippins and by Kemp’s campaign.
Kemp said the tapes showed that Cagle is willing to put politics above policy. “You cannot trust this man,” Kemp said.
Cagle shot back and accused Kemp of taking part in “dirty political tricks” and conspiring with Tippins to create and release the tapes.
“Secretary Kemp along with Clay Tippins conspired to really set me up in my office and secretly record me,” a clearly agitated Cagle said. “Who does that?”
Kemp denied working with Tippins to make the recording.
Cagle also went on the offensive, accusing Kemp of missteps in his handling of sensitive voter data as secretary of state.
Cagle pointed to a 2015 incident in which Kemp’s office inadvertently released the social security numbers and other identifying information of millions of Georgia voters on disks sent to members of the media and political parties.
“How can we trust Secretary Kemp in the little things?” Cagle asked.
Kemp called Cagle “Pinocchio” over the claims, saying he was distorting information. Kemp said a member of his staff was responsible for the error, that person was fired and procedures were changed to ensure it didn’t happen again.
Cagle, once considered a heavy favorite, won 39 percent of Republican votes in the five-man May 22 primary to Kemp’s 25.5 percent.
But Kemp has been surging in polls and recently closed the gap to a virtual dead heat.
Early in-person voting began July 2.
The winner will face Democrat Stacey Abrams in the general election in November.