Republican Brian Kemp and Gov. Nathan Deal at last week’s press conference at the state Capitol. Kemp declared himself the victor in the 2018 race for governor, but Democrat Stacey Abrams has yet to concede. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

The Jolt: Behind Brian Kemp’s push for Stacey Abrams to concede

Last Thursday, hours after Republican Karen Handel cleared the way by conceding defeat in her Sixth District congressional race, the gubernatorial campaign of Brian Kemp began to ramp up its attack on the Democratic woman who has yet to give up. From the press release:

"Stacey Abrams can't accept the fact that Georgians rejected her radical agenda at the ballot box, so now she's desperately trying to steal this election in the courtroom," said Ryan Mahoney, Communications Director.

Saturday brought another broadside:

"Stacey Abrams' antics are a disgrace to democracy and completely ignore the will of the people," said Ryan Mahoney, Communications Director. "This is not how America works.”

And this morning, according to his campaign, “days after businessman Brian Kemp earned a clear victory at the ballot box,” the Abrams campaign’s refusal to concede is “incredibly shameful.”

Never mind that, with that last statement, Kemp’s eight years as secretary of state just went “poof” in a cloud of smoke.

But to Mr. Mahoney’s earlier point: Actually, this is precisely how America works when the leading candidate for governor gets 50.28 percent of the vote and a state has a victory threshold of 50 percent – plus one.

When balloting get tight, the counting becomes contentious, and we do have a spate of lawsuits.

The state Democratic Party on Sunday filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to tell counties they must count ballots rejected for what the party says were “arbitrary reasons.”

(Note to Kemp campaign: When going before the judge, try to avoid the phrase “steal this election in the courtroom.” Jurists – the good ones, anyway -- tend to get upset when accused of being an accessory to theft, before or after the fact.)

Last night, the state elections board instructed acting Secretary of State Robyn Crittenden to instruct all Georgia counties on how to process mailed-in ballots. What those instructions were we don’t know.

In the Seventh District, Democrat Carolyn Bordeaux’s campaign has filed a lawsuit in federal court asking that Gwinnett County delay certification of votes because the county has some 1,000 absentee votes that haven’t been counted.

In other words, a certain amount of messiness is implied in close elections.

A staff worker with the Stacey Abrams campaign on the phone with voters on Friday, aggressive provisional ballot chase. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

So let’s get back to the Kemp name-calling: I.e., referring to Abrams as a “disgrace to democracy” and some sort of electoral burglar. That’s not the patient language of a campaign that’s comfortable in its victory. Confidence does not shine through in that kind of phrasing.

We can rule out some motives. As the Florida governor’s contest has reminded us, concessions are not binding. They are political statements, not legal ones.

Nor, we hope, is this about Kemp wanting to be addressed as “governor-elect” in the media for the next eight weeks. If he’s due the title, that will come soon enough.

We can also rule out that the Kemp campaign is actually trying to pressure Abrams to do something she’s not inclined to do. A campaign that implies that a female African-American opponent is consorting with an armed “Black Panther Party” only 24 hours before Election Day can’t seriously believe it has increased its persuasive hold on her a week later.

But Kemp’s hostility does have much to do with Stacey Abrams and whether she continues as a cause celebre among Democrats.

There is the longer-term threat she might pose to U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., who is up for re-election in 2020.

But more immediately, there’s the question of whether Abrams and her turnout machine can dispense with a Democratic jinx and help John Barrow win his statewide Dec. 4 runoff against Republican Brad Raffensperger.

Clearly, Abrams recognizes the importance of controlling the office of secretary of state. And Republicans are very worried about their misfire last Tuesday in the populous northern suburbs of metro Atlanta. One of your Insiders has more details here.

Kemp’s not trying to persuade Abrams to concede. He’s trying to make sure that his own people don’t stand down -- and that hers do.

***

Over the weekend, former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich was critical of the way Republican Brian Kemp ran his race for governor.

At a conference in Sea Island over the weekend, the former Georgia congressman faulted Kemp for neglecting metro Atlanta’s suburbs as he focused on driving up turnout in rural parts of the state. Via the Washington Examiner:

Gingrich said Kemp paid too much attention to the strong GOP vote in South Georgia and ran a campaign about small ideas, ignoring Atlanta, where most of the votes, and the sort of ambitious policies that might have appealed to them.

“Brian Kemp, who did a very effective job in the primary, ran a primary election in the general election,” Gingrich explained. “He spent almost no energy trying to reach suburban and exurban women and he came close to losing.”

Keep in mind that the Sixth District, carried by Democrat Lucy McBath last Tuesday at the expense of GOP incumbent Karen Handel, was once held by Gingrich. The same Examiner article quotes Republican strategist Karl Rove, who also sounded the alarm about the GOP’s problems in the suburbs:

“When we start to lose in the suburbs, it says something to us,” Rove continued. “We can’t replace all of those people by simply picking up [Minnesota’s First Congressional District] — farm country and the Iron range of Minnesota — because, frankly, there’s more growth in suburban areas than there is in rural areas.”

***

Remember that time, a year ago two Sundays ago, when Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced he had launched an investigation into the Democratic Party of Georgia and whether its employees and volunteers had engaged in attempting to hack the state’s voter registration database?

This morning, we contacted the Democratic party’s executive director, its chairman, and its representative on the state election board. None have heard a peep from law enforcement.

***

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