Democrat Stacey Abrams has changed tactics in her run for governor. Previously, she let her allies slam her opponent, Republican Brian Kemp, while she tried to keep her own comments positive. Now, she’s become more combative. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

Abrams takes a sharper-elbowed approach to Kemp as early voting starts

Previously, Abrams relied on allies to swipe back at Kemp while she tried to present herself as above the fray. Now, she’s launching direct attacks on the Republican’s views about policies and his performance in office.

The harshening rhetoric is no surprise. Poll after poll shows the race deadlocked, and Abrams is trying to energize her core supporters – and mobilize others who rarely vote – with the start of early voting.

Nor is it one-sided. Kemp has blasted Abrams from the moment he won the runoff, with ads and campaign trail broadsides labeling her a “radical” and “extremist” who takes her cues from California and New York.

But that has been Kemp’s strategy ever since he won the GOP primary runoff.

This week, Abrams laced into her GOP rival over a slew of his policies:

  • On his record in the state Senate? “I got legislation through in the minority and he didn’t get a thing done in the majority,” she said in Hinesville.
  • On his stance on minimum wages: “Not only does he not believe in a living wage, he doesn’t believe in a living wage for law enforcement,” she said in Kingsland.
  • And on his support of “exact-match” laws that left more than 50,000 voter registrations in pending status? It’s part of a “larger pattern of incompetence” that she assailed during her bus tour.

“We will not let him take their votes away. We will not let him win,” she said in Statesboro. “Because we are better than that. We are the cradle of the civil rights movement.”

On the quest to become the first African-American women to be governor in Georgia, democrat candidate Stacey Abrams makes her way through several stops on the campaign trail. Along for the ride, Abrams was accompanied by newly elected United States Representative of Massachusetts 7th Congressional district Ayanna Pressley and United States Senator Elizabeth Warren. (Video by Ryon Horne)

Kemp takes issue with each of her attacks, starting with the assertion that he’s trying to suppress votes. He points to a record number of voter registrations, and he paints Abrams’ criticism as a scare tactic and “manufactured controversy.”

Abrams’ shift comes at the same time in-person early voting has begun, and her campaign hopes the sharper elbows spur more people to the polls.

“We can win this election. I believe the appropriate hip-hop term is, ‘They are shook,’” she told a cheering crowd in Statesboro. “Because that’s why they’re saying crazy stuff all the time.”

‘Wrong rhetoric’

The coarsening back-and-forth has also coincided with more brutal attacks on the airwaves.

Kemp has been pummeling Abrams for weeks with ads criticizing her opposition to legislation that would have increased prison sentences for sex offenders, a proposal she said she opposed because it would have limited judges’ discretion.

And he’s accused her of supporting the rights of “illegals to vote” because of remarks she made saying the tidal wave of Democratic energy includes the “documented and undocumented.” Scoffing at those accusations, Abrams called on Kemp to “stop spreading this very, very wrong rhetoric.”

The Georgia GOP has provided him some air cover, assailing Abrams on TV over her ties to national Democratic figures such as California U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters and Hillary Clinton who are loathed by the party’s base.

And mirroring a national trend, the state party has decried the “unhinged legal mob” targeting Kemp’s practices as secretary of state and a “media mob” for coverage of the race.

Democrats are pushing right back. The state party released its toughest ad yet on Thursday, a 30-second spot that opens with footage of Kemp pointing a shotgun toward his daughter’s date and ticks through several of the controversies that have followed him throughout the election.

For some of Abrams’ supporters, the more muscular approach is welcome news. A string of national Democrats recently encouraged the party’s candidates to more aggressively take on Republicans, even if it means triggering new GOP attacks.

“The voters need to see why they should vote for her and how their life is going to be different if they vote for her as opposed to Kemp,” said Evita Paschall, who attended Abrams’ rally in Grovetown.

Paschall, an attorney, welcomed Abrams drawing a sharper contrast with Kemp over her support for Medicaid expansion and plans to repeal a $100 million private school tax credit.

“As quiet as its kept, the real community cares about education,” she said. “It’s just the politicians that say we don’t. But they care about what the teachers are being paid, they care about education for their kids. And she is emphasizing it more.”

OUR REPORTING

It’s a busy election year, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is keeping the spotlight on the leading candidates for governor, Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams. Recent AJC stories have examined Kemp’s finances and Abrams’ position while in the state Legislature as a leading collector of per diem. Look for more at ajc.com/politics as the state heads for the general election on Nov. 6.

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