Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp speak to their supporters during their election night watch parties.

Kemp maintains slim lead over Abrams as final votes counted

Republican Brian Kemp maintained a narrow lead over Democrat Stacey Abrams early Wednesday as the last election results trickled in for Georgia’s nationally-watched race for governor.

Kemp expressed confidence that his slim edge over Abrams was insurmountable, and his allies urged him to declare victory. But Abrams said she would not concede the race until more ballots were counted, and her campaign released an early morning memo outlining a narrow path to a runoff.

“We will continue to work hard until the very end. We will fight for every vote, just like I will fight for you as governor,” she said early Wednesday. “And that means keeping our eyes on the process to ensure that this election is conducted fairly.”

Republican Brian Kemp speaks at his election-watching party. AJC/Hyosub Shin

She told supporters to prepare for a runoff, which is required if neither candidate gets the majority-vote margin they need to win the race outright. There’s never been a fall gubernatorial runoff in Georgia history, but Libertarian Ted Metz’s 1 percent take contributed to the possibility.

The race got considerably closer overnight, as Kemp’s lead of more than 100,000 shrunk to roughly 70,000. With nearly all precincts reporting, Abrams’ campaign held out hope that a few troves of absentee ballots and an unknown number of provisional ballots would narrow his edge.

Other politics coverage from the AJC:

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Why a Georgia runoff is typically an uphill fight for Democrats

Georgia Governor race: All precinct results

Kemp didn’t issue any public statements Wednesday about the tightening margin of the race, but he earlier said his “very strong lead” would hold up. “The math is on our side,” he added.

It could be days before the final election results are certified. And legal teams on both sides were gearing up for challenges.

Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams 
Photo: Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. 

A Dec. 4 runoff would bring even more national attention to the clash between Kemp and Abrams, who is competing to be the nation’s first black female governor. And it would ensure the most expensive gubernatorial election in state history gets even pricier.

Other contests also grew closer overnight. Democrat Lucy McBath took a slim lead over Republican U.S. Rep. Karen Handel in Georgia’s 6th District, while U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall carved out a narrow lead over Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux.

Two other statewide races appeared destined for a runoff: The secretary of state matchup between Republican Brad Raffensperger and Democrat John Barrow, and a Public Service Commission contest between incumbent Chuck Eaton and Democrat Lindy Miller.

The winner of the race for Georgia's governor seat has not been determined. Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp remain neck and neck. Abrams' campaign manager Lauren Groh Wargo said she wanted to wait for more votes to be counted. Kemp did not declare victory, but he said, "The math is on our side to win this election." If neither candidate gets at least 50% plus one vote, the race heads to a runoff on Dec. 4. Georgia has never had a general election runoff for governor.

Kemp built a giant lead in rural Georgia, getting a higher vote share than even President Donald Trump in some of the state’s deepest-red bastion. At some points in the tally, he led Abrams by more than 300,000 votes – before metro Atlanta’s trove of Democratic ballots came in.

Just as conservative parts of Georgia got redder, liberal bastions of Georgia turned even bluer. Hillary Clinton won DeKalb County – the state’s biggest Democratic stronghold – with 79 percent in 2016. Abrams votes so far have topped 83 percent.

Abrams also led a surge through Atlanta’s suburbs to carry Cobb and Gwinnett counties – two former GOP bastions that turned blue for the first time in decades in 2016. And she narrowly won Henry County, another suburban county that’s transformed from reliably red to perpetually purple.

Down the ticket, Republicans got clobbered in the suburbs. All three GOP-held seats in DeKalb flipped to Democrats, and powerful incumbents in Cobb, Fulton and Gwinnett went down in flames while open seats flipped to young Democratic challengers.

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