ATLANTA — Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams are facing off in a rematch of the state’s last governor’s race, with both seeking a remarkable achievement.
Kemp, who was a developer before serving as a state senator and secretary of state, could clinch another term despite attacks from former President Donald Trump that threatened to snuff out support in his own party.
Abrams, a lawyer whose 2018 loss to Kemp helped launch her into Democratic stardom, would be the first Black woman to serve as a governor in the United States if she were to win. She seeks to avenge a defeat that she acknowledged while refusing to use the word “concede,” saying Kemp abused his prior position as secretary of state to raise barriers to voting.
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Libertarian Shane Hazel is also on the ballot and could force a December runoff by preventing the other candidates from winning an absolute majority.
Although the rematch means few voters are discovering Kemp or Abrams anew, the race has been different.
Kemp, 59, seemed on shaky ground among Republicans after the 2020 presidential election, when Trump blamed him for not doing enough to overturn President Joe Biden’s narrow win in Georgia. Trump helped lure former U.S. Sen. David Perdue into a primary challenge to Kemp, whom he called a “complete and total failure”.
But Kemp motored away from Perdue during the GOP primary, winning nearly 74% of the vote. Kemp patiently explained his election actions to Republicans even as he used his office to sign conservative-pleasing bills loosening gun laws, cutting taxes and banning “divisive concepts” in schools.
While many incumbents are weakened by serious primary challenges, Kemp appeared to be strengthened. Trump’s attacks gave Kemp credibility with the narrow margin of Georgia voters who are willing to consider voting for either party, a largely white, college educated and suburban demographic.
Kemp highlighted his stewardship of the state economy and his decision to relax public restrictions early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also gave billions in tax breaks and handouts using federal and state money. Kemp pushed laws to suspend the state gas tax, give $1 billion of state income tax refunds and even give $350 to every person in the state on public assistance. He also pledged another income tax break and a property tax break if reelected, portraying the cash as helping Georgians “fight through 40-year-high inflation and high gas prices” that he blamed on Biden, Abrams and other Democrats.
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Nearly half of Georgia voters say the economy is the most pressing issue facing the country, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of more than 3,000 voters in the state.
Roughly a third of Georgians say their family is falling behind financially. A majority of those voters cast ballots for Kemp and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker.
The slight proportion of voters — about 1 in 10 — who say their families are getting ahead financially were more likely to vote for Democratic candidates, including Abrams and U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.
Rising costs were named as a top concern among the state’s voters, with roughly 9 in 10 saying the inflated prices of groceries, gas and other goods were an important factor in how they cast ballots. Among those who said they considered inflation in their voting decision, roughly half said the cost of groceries and food was the most important factor.
Abrams spent the four years since her defeat laying the groundwork for another run. She formed a forceful voting rights advocacy group — Fair Fight Action — and built her own personal wealth as Democrats gobbled up her books and paid to attend her speeches.
Her national profile was so high that she was considered as a possible running mate for Biden or even a candidate for president herself. That helped Abrams outraise Kemp with the help of a state law that allows candidates for governor to accept unlimited contributions through an associated committee.
Abrams raised $85 million through Sept. 30, but even Kemp’s $60 million would have by far been a record for a governor’s race in Georgia, as he sought to build a national fundraising base. And Abrams’ financial advantage was never enough to run away with the race — Kemp has led in polls throughout.
Abrams, 48, rolled out a campaign that she once described as “rife with plans,” including a big pay raise for teachers, legalizing casino and sports gambling to pay for more college aid, expanding Medicaid health insurance, aiding small and minority-owned businesses, and making housing more affordable. At the same time, Abrams pledged to tighten Georgia’s gun laws and roll back abortion restrictions, arguing Kemp was far from moderate.
“The most dangerous thing facing Georgia is four more years of Brian Kemp,” Abrams said in an Oct. 17 debate.
Roughly 7 in 10 voters also identified the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the constitutional right to an abortion as an important factor in their vote. About a quarter of voters described it as the single most important factor; these voters were more likely to cast a ballot for Warnock and Abrams.
Kemp launched frequent attacks on Abrams, accusing her of not supporting police. A sizable majority of voters identified crime as a factor in their how they cast ballots, AP VoteCast found. More than 8 in 10 voters described it as an important issue. And roughly 8 in 10 Georgians say they’re concerned about crime in their own communities
Associated Press writer Amanda Seitz contributed from Washington, D.C.
Learn more about the issues and factors at play in the midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections. And follow the AP’s election coverage of the 2022 elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections.
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