Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp won a second term Tuesday, defeating Democrat Stacey Abrams and capping a momentous few years in which he faced down an aggressive challenge from former President Donald Trump.
In a speech late Tuesday night, Abrams congratulated Kemp in a speech to her supporters.
It was the second time Kemp, a Republican, had defeated Abrams, after a much closer contest for governor in 2018. And it was the culmination of a decade-long rivalry between the Republican and the Democrat, going back to when Kemp was Georgia’s secretary of state and Abrams was the House minority leader in the state Legislature.
Much has transpired between them over the last 10 years. But much of Kemp’s victory was due to the way he handled a challenge from the former president in his own party.
After losing to Joe Biden in 2020, Trump tried to enlist state officials in an attempt to overturn the results. Kemp refused to help Trump throw out the votes of millions of Georgians.
The former president is currently under investigation by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who is reported to be readying indictments based on Trump’s actions in Georgia in 2020. The indictments could come in December, CNN reported.
Once Trump left the White House, he turned to former Sen. David Perdue to launch a primary campaign against Kemp. Perdue based his campaign on the idea that Trump had won the 2020 election, but was forced from power by officials like Kemp; when the GOP primary was held in May, Kemp trounced Perdue by more than 50 points.
Until 2020, Kemp’s biggest claim to fame was that he was a supervillain to many on the left. Abrams called him an “architect of voter suppression” after sparring with him in his role of overseeing elections for several years. Georgia has a long history of racialized voter suppression, and Yahoo News documented a case of voter intimidation in 2010 by officials with Kemp’s secretary of state office.
But high turnout among Black voters in 2018 made it harder for Kemp’s critics to claim he had suppressed the vote. Black turnout increased by 16 points from 2014, compared with just an 11-point increase for white voters, according to the Brookings Institution.
Then Kemp’s refusal to buckle in the face of a pressure campaign to corrupt the 2020 result from the leader of his own party cast the Republican governor in a new light.
Kemp had already shown some independence from Trump earlier in 2020, when he reopened the state’s businesses only a few weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic. Trump criticized the move, saying it was “too soon.” Yet Georgia’s economy continued to hum through the pandemic and picked up in 2021.
Early in 2021, Kemp was once again being castigated by Democrats, this time for signing a bill that narrowed access to voting in Georgia by reducing the amount of time for mail-in voting, instituting new ID requirements for voting by mail. The law also gave the state Legislature more power over elections. The piece of the law that drew the most attention was a provision barring political groups from giving food or water to voters standing in line.
Abrams has continued to insist that despite huge turnout from Black voters, voter suppression remains a factor.
“In 2018 … we had record turnout that shattered records for Democrats among communities of color and in that same election,” she said. “We know that 85,000 Georgians were denied their right to vote due to voter suppression tactics that shut down their precincts. We know that 50,000 voters had their right to vote held hostage by the exact match process, which was proven to be voter suppression tactics. We know that thousands of people stood in lines for hours because of voter suppression tactics.”
But a lawsuit brought against the state after the 2018 election by Fair Fight Action, an organization started by Abrams, was soundly rejected by a federal judge appointed by former President Barack Obama.
The lawsuit alleged “serious and unconstitutional flaws in Georgia’s elections process,” and said Kemp — in his capacity as secretary of state — had been “denying and abridging Georgians’ right to vote” through an “exact match” policy that eliminated tens of thousands of ballots, through “extensive mismanagement of the statewide voter registration list” and through “non-uniform and improper practices regarding in-person cancellation of absentee ballots.”
But Judge Steve Jones ruled in September of this year that Fair Fight had failed to provide sufficient evidence for its claims.
Abrams ran a centrist campaign, focusing on health care concerns such as Medicare and Medicaid expansion and providing funding for rural hospitals.
But in many ways, she was running uphill against a popular governor who had established his independence from Trump — and who had been tested in high-stakes confrontations with both the former president and with Abrams herself.