Kemp retains governor’s seat, beats Abrams by 300K votes

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An earlier version of this story provided the incorrect year for the 1.2 million mail-in ballots. The year was stated as 2018; it should have been 2020. The earlier version also stated that close to 4 million more people voted on election day. It should have been 1.4 million people.

The Gist

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp soundly defeated Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams in the midterm election Tuesday night, winning 53 percent of the vote.  

Georgia Votes

What’s Happening

Robust, record-breaking early turnout among midterm voters  —  which had Abrams and her supporters hoping that she might defy polls that consistently showed her trailing Kemp — ultimately did not stop Kemp from retaining the governor’s seat. He won by nearly 300,000 votes.

“Each day of this race, we talked about how Marty and the girls and I think we live in the best state in this country to live, work and raise our families. And we all know that my opponent disagreed. But looking at the results tonight, we made sure that Stacey Abrams is not going to be our governor or your next president,” Kemp told his supporters in his victory speech Tuesday night at his election headquarters at the Coca-Cola Roxy in Cobb County.  

Abrams, a former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, became a national Democratic star after her narrow loss to Kemp in the 2018 governor’s race by 55,000 votes.  Her successful campaign to galvanize voter registration efforts and to build a multiracial coalition of Democratic voters resulted in record turnout that year, and it is credited with helping turn Georgia blue in 2020, propelling President Joe Biden into office and helping Democratic U.S. Senators Jon Osoff and Raphael Warnock win their races in 2021.

Unlike the immediate aftermath of the 2018 election, when Abrams refused to concede to Kemp for 10 days, citing election irregularities and voter suppression efforts, on Tuesday night she called Kemp around 11 p.m. to concede.  She then told her supporters gathered at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Atlanta, “I am doing the responsible thing, I am suspending my campaign for governor. While I may have not crossed the finish line, that doesn’t mean that I won’t stop running for a better Georgia.”

Why It Matters

Kemp and Abrams clashed on many issues important to voters in Georgia.  

Health care and reproductive choice figured prominently in the campaign of Abrams, who promised to expand Medicaid to 500,000 uninsured Georgians, and to repeal the “heartbeat” law restricting abortion at about six weeks into a woman’s pregnancy. Kemp promoted and signed the law passed by the Georgia legislature in 2019, and said he was “overjoyed” when it took effect in Georgia after the Supreme Court nullified the federal protections for abortion in Roe vs. Wade earlier this year. Kemp supported a limited expansion of Medicaid this year that includes work requirements for beneficiaries.

Both candidates had designs on Georgia’s $6.6 billion fiscal year 2022 surplus that reflected their political philosophies. Kemp, a fiscal conservative, promised to return $2 billion of the funds to Georgians in the form of income tax and property tax rebates, and to keep much of the rest in state coffers. Abrams planned to spend $1 billion on tax refunds and to invest the balance in health care services, public education, housing initiatives, public safety, and rural development, enacting “generational change.”

Kemp’s emphasis on conserving cash during a time of record high inflation (currently 10.6 percent in Georgia) and signs of an impending economic recession may have connected well with a majority of voters in Georgia, who identified the economy as their primary concern in polls in recent months. Kemp also touted the state’s low unemployment rates, currently below 3 percent.  

 Messages from both candidates around election integrity fired up some voters and turned off others.

“[Abrams]  was running on flawed information and I think she engaged in extreme thought,” said Susan Kreuer, a retired Buckhead resident and former political campaign worker who attended Kemp’s victory party Tuesday night.

“Voter suppression. She was living and dying on it,” added Kreuer. “We had 2.5 million people vote [early]. And in the community that she feels is most abused by this suppression in the last election, 23% of African Americans voted. We’re up to almost 29% this time. So her arguments just didn’t hold water.”

But some of Abrams’ supporters are holding fast to the notion that Kemp and other Republicans who were victorious on Tuesday night were aided by the changes in Georgia’s election process.

“Voter suppression is real,” said LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, an Atlanta-based organization that mobilizes voters.  “I think it was a factor this time. That’s extremely unfortunate, what has happened with mail-in ballots, the legislative changes, that dropped the number of mail-in ballots from 1.2 million [in 2020] to 200,000 [in 2022].  That’s had a remarkable impact on this election. So what we’re seeing is we’ve still got work to do.”

In the early voting period in the midterm election, 2,524,348 Georgians voted, and 29.1% were Black. Close to 1.4 million more people voted on election day. The breakdown of voters by age, race and gender is not yet available.

What’s Next?

For her part, Abrams says she plans on stepping back into the fray.  “I may no longer be seeking the office of governor, but I will never stop doing everything in my power to ensure that the people of Georgia have a voice,” she said Tuesday night.

In his victory speech, Kemp said Georgians want good schools, good-paying jobs and low taxes.  “They know which direction they want their state to go and it is forward,” Kemp said. “And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”


Join the Conversation

“What do you want to know about elections in Georgia? Share your thoughts/tips by emailing: jilljordan@stateaffairs.com

Follow Key Players for This Story:

Gov. Brian Kemp at gov.georgia.gov , @GovKemp and @briankempga

Stacey Abrams at staceyabrams.com  and @staceyabrams 

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger at sos.ga.gov  and @GASecofState and Gabriel Sterling, Chief Operating Officer, Georgia Secretary of State for final updates on the election results and breakdown of voter demographics @GabrielSterling 

Header photo: The Kemp family voting together on Election Day in Winterville, GA. Amy Porter (left), Gov. Brian Kemp, Jarrett, Lucy and First Lady Marty Kemp. (Credit: Team Kemp)

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