Kemp, Abrams Headline Upcoming Midterm Elections

Credit: Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon (State Affairs)

Key Points
  • Georgia voters will choose once again between Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams to become governor.
  • High early-voting turnout before the primary helped curb the hours-long lines and wait times seen in past Georgia elections.
  • Hundreds of thousands more ballots were cast in the Republican primary for governor than on the Democratic side.

The Gist

Georgians flocked to the polls in record-breaking numbers for the 2022 primary elections. Battle lines have been drawn in several key races. Others head to runoffs in June. 

What’s Happening

Georgia held primaries on Tuesday to decide the nominees for key statewide offices in Georgia including governor, secretary of state and U.S. Senate. Many of those races drew fierce competition from challengers aiming to unseat incumbents within their own party.

After a record-setting 2 million ballots were cast yesterday, runoffs are ahead for Democratic voters to decide who will compete for Georgia’s lieutenant governor and secretary of state, both of which are top statewide offices. Primary runoffs are set for June 21.

Click the image above to read State Affairs’ story on who’s headed to the general election and who’s headed for a primary runoff in the 2022 races. (Credit: Brittney Phan for State Affairs)

Democratic State Rep. Bee Nguyen (D-Atlanta) failed to gain the 50% vote margin needed to avoid a runoff for secretary of state. Former Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall, a Democrat, also heads to a primary runoff for lieutenant governor.

Elsewhere, Democratic candidates will also face runoffs in the primary races for labor and insurance commissioners.

Kemp vs. Abrams 2.0

Once again, Georgia voters will choose between Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams to become governor. The difference this year: Democratic office-seekers have made more headway in Georgia than Kemp and Abrams’ last matchup in 2018.

Kemp, a Republican, edged out Abrams, a Democrat, by less than 55,000 votes four years ago. The close margin fueled state Democratic leaders’ push to flip U.S. Senate seats long held by Republicans and Georgia’s presidential pick in 2020.

Gov. Brian Kemp speaks to supporters in Atlanta after winning the 2022 Republican primary for governor on May 24, 2022. (Credit: Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon for State Affairs)

Expect a big media blitz with mud slinging from both campaigns to start in coming weeks.

In his victory speech, Kemp accused Abrams of using her campaigns for governor to raise her profile in preparation for a future run for president. Abrams has denied interest in running for president.

“Unfortunately for Stacey Abrams, the people of our state aren’t going to be used as a stepping stone to the White House,” Kemps said. “We’re going to make sure that Stacey Abrams’ road to Pennsylvania Avenue stops right here in the Peach State.”

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams rallies supporters in Atlanta amid primary voting on May 24, 2022. (Credit: Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon for State Affairs)

Shortly after, Abrams slammed Kemp for signing a bill to allow concealed-carry guns with permits in Georgia. Her comments came amid news that a gunman killed 19 elementary school students and two adults at a Texas school.

“Kemp disqualified himself when he pushed a criminal carry bill that will put more guns on our streets and make us less safe. … Years from now, Kemp will be remembered as a one-term governor who pointed a gun at a boy on television,” Abrams said in a news release, referring to Kemp’s 2018 campaign ad in which he pointed a shotgun in the direction of a young man.

The Rise of Early Voting

More than 860,000 ballots were cast in three weeks of early voting ahead of Tuesday’s primary, nearly triple the number cast early in the 2018 midterms. High early-voting turnout before Tuesday’s primary helped curb the hours-long lines and wait times seen in past Georgia elections, officials said.

Voters across the state largely breezed through polling places Tuesday. “I was expecting more people,” said LaTosha Beadles, a 53-year-old life insurance processor who voted in Fulton County, where many voters waited in line for six hours in the 2020 primaries.

Click the photo above to read State Affairs’ story on how voting went during Primary Day on May 24, 2022. (Credit: Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon for State Affairs)

The 2022 primaries marked the most votes ever cast in a midterm primary election thanks largely to strong early-voting turnout, said Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political science professor.

“I think we’ll see more and more of that,” Bullock said about early voting. “People like the latitude it gives them.”

Meanwhile, around 75,000 absentee ballots were cast in the Republican and Democratic primaries for governor, higher than the roughly 18,000 mail-in ballots cast in the 2018 primary but far less than the 1.3 million cast in the 2020 presidential election.

Voting-rights advocates say tighter ID rules and shorter request deadlines passed last year have caused doubts that mail-in voters will have their ballots counted, prompting a pivot to more Georgians going to the polls in person.

GOP Wins Turnout

Far more ballots came in for Republican primaries on Tuesday than the opposing party, indicating Democratic nominees have their work cut out for them if they hope to flip top seats like governor and secretary of state in November.

More than 480,000 more ballots were cast in the Republican primary for governor than on the Democratic side – roundly out to roughly double the number of Republican primary ballots than Democratic.

Click the image above to read State Affairs’ story on the ballot casting and vote counting for Georgia’s primary elections on May 24, 2022. (Credit: Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon for State Affairs)

The highly charged race between Kemp and his main primary challenger, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, drove high interest among Republican voters – compared to the Democratic primary featuring Abrams who ran unopposed, said UGA’s Bullock.

Also, election experts are analyzing whether thousands of Democratic voters pulled Republican primary ballots in order to weaken chances for Trump-baked challengers to win their party’s nomination.

Nearly 10% of Republican ballots in Fulton County were likely cast by Democratic voters, said Bullock. That cross-party voting may have given incumbent Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger the needed boost to avoid a runoff over his Trump-backed Republican, U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, Bullock said.

“It may result in swinging at least one contest,” Bullock said. “If indeed it did save Raffensperger, that’s pretty significant.”

What’s Next?

Georgia’s race for governor will continue to be the focus of national attention between now and November, given the close split between Kemp and Abrams in 2018. Other competitive races including for secretary of state, lieutenant governor and U.S. Senate are also expected to drive huge turnout in the general election.

Early voting for the primary runoffs starts no later than June 13. The last day to request an absentee ballot is June 10. Only those who were registered to vote in Tuesday’s primaries may vote in the runoffs. 

The general election is set for November 8. Three weeks of early voting will start on October 17. The last day to register to vote in the general election is November 7. 

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