ATHENS, Ga. -- Brian Kemp is in the midst of the toughest, political fight of his life.

Kemp is one of five Republicans hoping to replace Gov. Nathan Deal, who cannot run for reelection. A new, exclusive 11Alive poll shows Kemp gaining on front-runner Casey Cagle, who is polling at 35 percent to Kemp’s 17 percent. If the trend continues, Kemp could secure a place in a likely run-off election against Cagle this summer.

11Alive Poll hints Brian Kemp surge in governor race

Athens-born and bred, Kemp and his family live in a home just outside of town that he and his wife, Marty, built nearly 20 years ago.

“It’s a great place to raise our daughters,” he said.

Kemp got his start in the construction business, then went into real estate, into the world of small business, and then into corporations and investments.

Georgia Votes 2018 | Full Coverage

In 2002, Kemp ran for a seat in the state Senate from Athens as an underdog Republican. And he won, beating the incumbent Democrat .

“I just literally got so frustrated with government that I decided to do something about it,” he said.

For the past eight years, Kemp has been Georgia’s Secretary of State, spearheading an effort to replace the state’s old, aging electronic voting equipment, and refuting critics claiming he was suppressing the minority vote.

And under Kemp’s watch there was a massive breach in 2015, potentially exposing the personal data of more than six million Georgians, traceable to one employee.

Kemp took responsibility.

“I’ve told people what the mistake was and owned it and fixed it and move on, and that’s the same way I’ll be as governor,” he said.

Kemp is seeking support from President Trump’s base in Georgia, and embracing the most conservative positions on immigration, guns, streamlining government regulations.

Georgia Votes 2018: Three Questions for Brian Kemp

“I’m still a small business person,” he said. “I’m still fighting a fight like everybody else. When we went through the recession, it was brutal. I feel their pain, and I understand it.”

Kemp consulted his family before running, seeking their unanimous approval.

Georgia Votes 2018: Ad shows Kemp cleaning a shotgun alongside a man wanting to date one of his daughters

“He talked to all of us, talked to all three of the girls individually and if they had a veto on it, that was it,” wife Marty said. “It was all-in, 150 percent. He’s always been that grounded person, the same guy as when we were younger.”

“I got in this business because I wanted government to be small, efficient, get out of people’s way, give people great opportunity,” Kemp said. “We must have good leaders who will do the right thing when no one is watching.”

Georgia's nationally watched primaries are set for May 22.

MORE

Georgia Votes 2018: Three Questions for Brian Kemp

'Track and deport' | Kemp releases first gubernatorial campaign ad