Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has clinched another term outright and defeated Democrat Stacey Abrams in a nationally watched – and long-anticipated – rematch between the two rivals.
Kemp went into Tuesday the favorite to win after consistently leading in the polls. Abrams called Kemp late Tuesday night to concede, and the Associated Press called the race at 12:45 a.m. Wednesday.
“It looks like the reports of my political death have been greatly exaggerated,” Kemp said to cheers Tuesday night at the Coca-Cola Roxy in The Battery.
Kemp’s comfortable finish Tuesday is a world away from the position he was in nearly a year ago when former U.S. Sen. David Perdue announced he would launch a primary challenge with former President Donald Trump’s endorsement. Trump vowed to defeat the governor when he did not help overturn the 2020 presidential election results.
But Kemp walloped Perdue by 52 percentage points in May. Some voters have said they split their ticket – voting for both Kemp and Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock – as a nod to Kemp’s handling of the 2020 election.
Kemp has never criticized Trump publicly but he has embraced the support of national Republican figures, such as former Vice President Mike Pence, who have fallen out of Trump’s favor.
The governor put the national economy at the center of his reelection bid and touted the strength of the state’s economy coming out of the pandemic at every opportunity. He also pledged to support another round of tax refunds and a one-time property tax grant to provide temporary relief from rising housing costs.
“Across the country tonight, we took the first step in saving America. This election proves that when Republicans stay focused on real world solutions that put hardworking people first, we can win now but also in the future, y’all,” he said.
An hour after the polls closed, the crowd at Abrams was still settling inside the Hyatt Regency ballroom in downtown Atlanta as Michael Jackson’s “Wanna be Startin’ Somethin’” blared from the speakers and CNN election night coverage aired over a large projector screen.
But as the early results came in, the mood of the subdued room reflected Abrams’ chances slipping as her lead fell thousands of votes short of Sen. Raphael Warnock, who shared the top of the Democratic ticket.
The energy picked up even after word spread of Abrams calling Kemp to concede at about 11 p.m.
When Abrams took the stage late Tuesday, her speech was broken up with intermittent loud cheers as she said the fight was well worth the struggle even if the outcome was not what she hoped for.
Abrams was flanked on stage by attorney and Spelman College friend Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, state Reps. Carolyn Hughley and Al Williams, campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo and former Atlanta city council president Lisa Borders.
“We have to struggle to hold on and fight for the values that we hold dear, that we may never sacrifice,” Abrams said. “I got into this to fight for what we know to be true deep down in our bones: That the state of Georgia, the people of Georgia deserve more.”
Abrams was elected to the state Legislature in 2006, embarking on a path that led to becoming House minority leader and to this year’s rematch for governor.
“I put my name on a ballot in 2006 and while I may not have crossed the finish line, that does not mean we will ever stop running for a better Georgia,” she said.
Abrams had tried to recapture the energy of her 2018 run, when there was a race for an open seat after former Gov. Nathan Deal was term limited. Four years ago, she came up just 55,000 votes short of Kemp, who narrowly won outright with just 50.2% of the vote. At the time, Abrams famously gave a non-concession speech.
But her campaign faced headwinds brought on by an unfavorable national climate for Democrats, with inflation driving up costs for Americans and President Joe Biden’s popularity under water.
Abrams also returned to the campaign trail in Georgia as a national superstar whose candor about her own future political ambitions – and her cameo appearance as president of United Earth on Star Trek – became frequent fodder for Kemp and other Republicans.
“Looking at the results tonight, we made sure that Stacey Abrams is not going to be our governor or your next president,” Kemp said Tuesday, recasting a favorite line from the campaign trail.
Abrams crafted a nuanced economic message that incorporated the cost of health care, and she pushed reproductive rights to the center of her message after the U.S. Supreme Court ended the federal constitutional right to abortion access.
She pitched her candidacy as a chance to elevate Georgians who she argued are missing out on the state’s growing economy.
A poll released in early October revealed some of Abrams’ positions – like her opposition to the state’s six-week abortion ban – were popular with the majority of Georgia voters even as most of the respondents said they preferred Kemp.
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