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‘My enemy is not a man’: Ex-gubernatorial candidate has ‘mission’ to damage Cagle

Georgia Republican gubernatorial candidate Clay Tippins participates in a debate May 20 in Atlanta.
Georgia Republican gubernatorial candidate Clay Tippins participates in a debate May 20 in Atlanta. AP Photo

Georgia voters can expect to hear more snippets from a secretly-recorded conversation with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in the days ahead of the July 24 Republican gubernatorial runoff, according to the man who made the recording.

“Yeah, there will be more things released,” Clay Tippins, who finished fourth in May’s Republican primary, told McClatchy, which owns The Telegraph in Macon and the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.

The vow came after Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s gubernatorial campaign released a 50-second clip Monday from a conversation that Tippins surreptitiously recorded on his phone in May in which Cagle says an unspecified “they” “don’t give a (expletive) about” issues in the primary election.

“This primary felt like it was who had the biggest gun, who had the biggest truck, and who could be the craziest,” Cagle said in the recording, according to news reports.

Cagle said in a recording segment released last month that he backed an education bill that he considered “bad public policy” to prevent a political rival from receiving millions of dollars in contributions from a political action committee.

That snippet was first provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta’s WSB-TV.

Tippins’ recording has shaken up what was already a bare-knuckled runoff battle between Cagle and Kemp.

Cagle has sought to portray Kemp as an incompetent secretary of state. Kemp has tried to paint Cagle as a corrupt and scandal-prone career politician. Both are trying to persuade voters that they’re the true political kin to President Donald Trump while the other is fake.

A telephone poll last month by the Alabama-based research firm Cygnal found the race in a statistical tie with Cagle at 44 percent and Kemp at 43 percent. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

Todd Rehm, a Georgia Republican consultant and editor of GaPundit.com, called the recording a rare “unforced error” by Cagle, who entered the race as the frontrunner.

“The lieutenant governor has made an unforced error, but at the end of the day he should have a strong financial advantage over Brian Kemp,” Rehm said. “And if that advantage is sufficient to allow him air superiority on television, he ought to win it.”

Cagle, in an interview in Duluth Saturday, said his only error was trusting Tippins — “I thought his word was his bond” — when he said the conversation was off the record.

“Was it unfortunate that someone came in under false pretenses? Yeah, it was,” Cagle said. “But you have to deal with it and move on. And certainly, we have.”

Tippins said his purpose for recording and releasing the conversation was to expose back-room dealing that he said is prevalent in Georgia politics, and to hurt Cagle’s chances of defeating Kemp in the upcoming runoff.

“This has nothing personal to do with Casey Cagle. I don’t like what he represents,” Tippins said in an interview Wednesday. “My enemy is not a man — it’s what that man represents. It’s the leadership model … he represents the political model.”

Cagle’s campaign said Tippins is the one who is playing politics by using the recording to help Kemp’s campaign.

“It’s clear now that (Kemp) colluded with a losing candidate to unethically record a private conversation,” Cagle campaign manager Scott Brinkley said in a statement Monday.

Tippins said he hasn’t formally endorsed Kemp but acknowledged that his actions amount to a de facto nod to his campaign.

The winner of the GOP runoff will face Democrat Stacey Abrams, who’s vying to become the nation’s first African-American woman governor.

“I’m a conservative, I love my Republican Party, and I don’t want Stacey Abrams as my governor … and I clearly don’t want Casey Cagle as my governor because I think he lacks conviction,” Tippins said.

“Of course I want Brian Kemp to be my governor,” he added. “He sought my endorsement about the same time Casey Cagle did, and I told him, ‘Brian, I hope you win.’ I said, ‘I’m going to do something that’s going to indirectly help you. … I said, ‘I’m not sure you’ll want my endorsement when I’m done. And I don’t want to endorse you until I’m done with my mission.’ ”

Tippins indicated Wednesday that his mission isn’t over. He won’t say when or how more portions of the Cagle recording will be released.

“If you’re a commando, you survey the battlefield and you decide, ‘Here’s what I have to do to win this fight,’ ” said the former Navy SEAL and reservist who was deployed to Iraq in the mid-2000s. “We’re in a fight right now for accountability and transparency. And so I’m going to respond to battlefield conditions.”

Clay Tippins, a Republican candidate for Georgia's next governor, stopped in Columbus Monday afternoon to meet with voters. He sat down with a Ledger-Enquirer reporter to share his ideas on "future-proofing" the state of Georgia.

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