Republican Brian Kemp clung to a slim lead over Stacey Abrams early Wednesday as final election returns trickled in, but the Democrat said she would not concede the race until more absentee ballots were counted.
Predicting a Dec. 4 runoff matchup with Kemp, she told voters to prepare for a “do-over” as her campaign pointed to tens of thousands of absentee ballots still out in metro Atlanta counties.
“And I need you to know that it is my mission to serve you, to serve Georgia, to make you proud,” she said. “And for those who didn’t pick me the first time, to change your mind about me and what we can accomplish together.”
Kemp’s supporters, meanwhile, said there was no way for Abrams to force the race into overtime. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, a former Georgia governor, said it was “mathematically impossible” for Abrams to win. And Kemp said he was “confident” he would win, though he did not declare victory.
“There are votes left to be counted, but we have a very strong lead,” he said. “And folks, make no mistake: The math is on our side to win this election.”
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If neither candidate gets the majority-vote margin they need to win the election outright, that would mean the nation’s political spotlight would shift firmly to Georgia over the next month – and the most expensive gubernatorial election in state history gets even pricier.
Other contests that remained unsettled Tuesday night included the 6th and 7th congressional district races in Atlanta’s northern suburbs, as well as the battle for secretary of state, which appeared headed to a runoff.
In the race for the state’s top job, Abrams is trying to upend nearly two decades of Republican rule to become the nation’s first black female governor by staking her campaign on a wave of support from progressives and left-leaning minorities who usually skip midterm elections.
Kemp has tried to energize supporters of Donald Trump by relentlessly appealing to conservatives with promises to expand gun rights, cut taxes and defend the president. He’s worked to bring in Trump supporters who typically ignored statewide elections before his run for the White House two years ago.
It would mean a flood of additional attention to a race that’s already become a national proxy fight. Runoffs in Georgia tend to favor Republicans, but Democrats hope a flood of momentum would help keep Abrams’ supporters motivated.
In the race’s final stretch, Abrams campaigned with former President Barack Obama, media icon Oprah Winfrey and virtually every potential 2020 Democratic hopeful for president as she ratcheted up her attempts to energize the party’s liberal base rather than trying to persuade moderate voters to support her.
Kemp focused his campaign on mobilizing conservatives who helped power Trump’s victory in the state in 2016, and the president headlined a final, raucous rally for the Republican on Sunday in Macon that drew thousands of voters.
The two candidates, who were bitter rivals long before the campaign, were sharply divided on many of the state’s biggest debates, such as tax policy, criminal justice, illegal immigration and climate change. But they may have clashed most bitterly over voting rights and ballot access.
Abrams’ allies demanded Kemp resign from his role as secretary of state, which oversees state elections, and she warned that his office was implementing policies to intimidate and suppress minority voters.
Democrats amplified their calls for his resignation when Kemp’s office opened an investigation of the state Democratic Party two days before the election, claiming an attempted hack of voter registration files without disclosing evidence of the alleged incursion.
Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at ajc.com/politics.