Vice President Mike Pence, center left, and Georgia's Secretary of State Brian Kemp, center right, gesture during a rally in Macon, Ga., Saturday, July 21, 2018. Pence endorsed Kemp for governor during the event. (Steve Schaefer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

VP Pence headlines Georgia rally in governor's race

July 21, 2018 - 9:21 pm

MACON, Ga. (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence made his presence felt Saturday in Georgia's race for governor, headlining a rally for Secretary of State Brian Kemp ahead of the looming Republican primary runoff.

The appearance came three days after President Donald Trump unexpectedly weighed in on the race, tweeting his "full and total endorsement" for Kemp. Kemp is locked in a contentious runoff that will be decided Tuesday with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, and both are vying to position themselves as the true Trump conservative.

"President Trump asked me to be here today for one reason and one reason only, and that is to tell you that the president and I fully support Brian Kemp," Pence said in an appearance in the central Georgia city of Macon. He praised Kemp as being "tough on crime" and "strong on borders."

One of the largest reactions from the crowd in Macon came when Pence trumpeted strong support for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"Leading liberal Democrats in the country said they want to abolish ICE," Pence said. "Abolish them!" a member of the crowd yelled back.

"We will never abolish ICE," Pence said to applause from the crowd.

Kemp and Cagle are both seeking to stake out conservative positions on the coattails of Trump, each frequently evoking the president's name in television ads, in stump speeches and in debates. And Trump on Saturday tweeted anew that Kemp has his "full endorsement," saying "He will be a GREAT governor!"

Cagle, meanwhile, was making the rounds in northern Georgia on Saturday. He attended an early meet-and-greet in Cleveland, Georgia, not far from Cagle's hometown of Gainesville, and another event in Hiawassee, near the North Carolina border.

"It's always good to be back ... in Cleveland. This is our third time during this election cycle & I know we'll be back soon. Especially with the great advertising on the sign! Proud to be supported by the Sheriff, Commission Chair, and Senator," Cagle tweeted.

The winner of Tuesday's Republican contest faces Democrat Stacey Abrams in the general election in November.

Pence's appearance in Georgia followed a stop earlier in the day in Tennessee, where Pence touted Republican tax cuts and campaigned with two GOP congresswomen waging tough campaigns for statewide offices.

In an appearance in Cleveland, Tennessee, Pence praised U.S. Reps. Diane Black and Marsha Blackburn, who joined the rally and are hoping to lead Tennessee's statewide GOP ticket this fall. Trump has endorsed Blackburn in her bid for the U.S. Senate from Tennessee but has not formally backed a candidate in that state's GOP primary for governor, where Black is one of four leading contenders.

___

Associated Press writer Bruce Schreiner contributed to this report from Louisville, Kentucky.