MARIETTA — The keynote appearance of Georgia’s first gubernatorial candidate for the 2018 race was one of several reasons Cobb County Republican Party Chairman Jason Shepherd believed led to a standing room-only turnout at the party’s monthly breakfast Saturday.

Many of the 211 in attendance had to stand at the party’s Roswell Street headquarters as Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp spoke. The breakfast came a day after the Republican announced his entry into the statewide race, becoming the first from either major party to do so.

“We’re honored he chose Cobb County to kick off his campaign. It shows the importance of Cobb County in general — where Cobb goes usually goes the Georgia Republican primary,” Shepherd said. “I’m expecting Secretary Kemp to have a strong presence here in Cobb as his campaign gets underway.”

Kemp previously served in the state Senate and has been the state’s top elections official since 2010 when he was appointed to the position when Karen Handel resigned to focus on a run for governor. Kemp easily won re-election in 2014.

“It was never my plan to run or serve in public office,” Kemp said. “I literally ran for the state Senate because I was fed up and I’d had enough — all the rules, regulations, taxes and mandates that were crushing small businesses, as well as working Georgians.”

If elected governor, Kemp said he would aim to institute a state spending cap that would adjust with inflation and population and take a stand against illegal immigration as well as “sanctuary” campuses and cities that shield those who are in the country illegally.

But a common focus in his nearly 12-minute address was small businesses.

“We absolutely must take a dadgum chainsaw to burn some job-killing regulations, destroy mandates that penalize progress, stand firm against any health care overhaul plan that punishes growth,” he said.

And while Kemp addressed a crowd in the heart of metro Atlanta, he said the goal of making Georgia the top state for small business would require a move away from being a “state divided” and treating rural Georgia the same as the metro area.

“No playing favorites. Rural Georgia must be a priority, not an occasional talking point — better paying jobs, stronger economy, high-speed internet and quality, accessible health care,” he said. “What’s good for rural Georgia is good for all Georgia.”


Though Kemp is the first to enter the field for governor from his party, that field is expected to get crowded. Other Republicans whose names have been floated as potential candidates for the state’s top office have included a Cobb legislator — state Sen. Hunter Hill, R-Smyrna — as well as U.S. Sen. David Perdue, former U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, the latter of whom was the keynote speaker at the Cobb GOP’s March breakfast.

“We had a really decent turnout the last Saturday for the March breakfast for Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, but I’d have to say the crowd for this one was a decent bit bigger,” Shepherd said, adding that despite Saturday being the first full day of spring break for the Cobb County and Marietta City school districts, he and other party leaders noted the attendance of many Republicans who had not come to a party breakfast in a while.

He said one reason for their attendance may have been to see and hear from the party’s new leadership — Shepherd and his administration were elected last month over incumbent Rose Wing — while others may have attended due to the impending April 18 special elections. In Congressional District 6, which includes parts of Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties, 18 candidates are vying to replace Tom Price, who resigned his seat to become the nation’s health secretary. In state Senate District 32, which covers parts of Cobb and Fulton, eight candidates are trying to replace Judson Hill, who gave up his seat to run for the District 6 seat.

Another reason for the high attendance, Shepherd said, may have been two changes to the party’s breakfast — offering a discount for those who preordered for the event, and not charging those who did not want breakfast.

“In the past, breakfast has been used as a fundraiser. Looking at the financial statements the last couple of years, it’s only been about $3,000 over the course of an entire year. If we can’t make that up as a party through other means, and throw open our doors so anyone who wants to come and find out more about the Republican Party, then we’re not doing our jobs,” he said.

Shepherd added that the party is in search of a venue that can hold more than 200 people for future Saturday breakfasts, and he says he has no doubt other gubernatorial candidates will seek to speak at such events in the months leading up to the election.

“The party’s neutral — we’ll help any candidate that wants to come here, give them the opportunity,” he said. “We’re looking forward to a lot more over the next year and a half until the race.”

— Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. 

Follow Jon Gargis on Twitter at

Tags: , , , , , ,