ATLANTA — President Donald Trump endorsed Secretary of State Brian Kemp over Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle for Georgia governor Wednesday, just days before voters decide the contentious Republican runoff.
Trump tweeted his support, noting Kemp's tough stance on illegal immigration and support for gun rights. The winner of Tuesday's runoff battle will face Democrat Stacey Abrams in the general election in November.
"Brian is tough on crime, strong on the border and illegal immigration. He loves our Military and our Vets and protects our Second Amendment. I give him my full and total endorsement," Trump said.
Kemp has found success positioning himself as an outsider and a "politically incorrect conservative" and often evokes Trump's name on the campaign trail.
Like Trump, Kemp has made combatting illegal immigration central to his pitch to voters.
Kemp has been unapologetic in the face of criticism of the tone used in television ads and stump speeches on the topic. In one ad that received widespread criticism — and national headlines — Kemp says he has a big pickup truck "just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take 'em home myself."
"Yep, I just said that," Kemp says in the ad.
Kemp said in a statement to The Associated Press that he was "incredibly grateful" for the president's support.
"As governor, I will unapologetically stand with President Trump to secure our border, deport criminal aliens, crush street gangs, and ensure a bright and promising future for our families," Kemp said.
The major endorsement, from a president popular with conservative primary voters in the Deep South state, comes just two days after Gov. Nathan Deal waded into the race with an endorsement for Cagle. Deal said that Cagle was the best person to continue progress he made as governor, pointing to economic development projects they had partnered on.
Cagle also has received the endorsement of the National Rifle Association.
Kemp and Cagle have both sought to position themselves as the true Trump supporter in the race, going all in on Trump after both were criticized by political opponents for being late to support him.
Cagle's most recent television ad boasts that Cagle received the backing of Trump's state chair, while a video of Trump speaking plays in the background.
Cagle initially backed former Florida Governor Jeb Bush in the 2016 presidential primary, while Kemp refrained from making an endorsement until after the Georgia primary, citing the need to remain neutral in his role. Both said they backed Trump in the general election against Hillary Clinton.
Cagle tweeted his response to the endorsement Wednesday evening: "No hard feelings, @realDonaldTrump. I look forward to receiving your endorsement against the Democrats in November as I did for you (wish @BrianKempGA could say he did the same)."