Pence, Kemp tout GOP agenda, rip Abrams for celebrity endorsements

Vice President Mike Pence headed to Georgia on Thursday for a trio of events in conservative areas for Brian Kemp. Democrats countered with a visit by Oprah Winfrey, who appeared with Stacey Abrams for a pair of town hall meetings.

The vice president first visited Dalton, followed by rallies in the Augusta suburb of Grovetown and Savannah. Our wrap-up of his visit can be found here. Our live updates from the three events are below.

Photos: Mike Pence campaigns with Brian Kemp


7:45 p.m. For the third and final time today, Vice President Mike Pence told thousands of Georgians that a vote for Brian Kemp would be a vote to aid President Donald Trump and his agenda.

The Republican gubernatorial nominee, Pence said, would work to support veterans and law enforcement, slash taxes and bolster security on the southern border.

"With Brian Kemp in the governor’s office, with a strong Republican team working with him in the state, with reelected Republican majorities on Capitol Hill, with President Donald Trump in the White House and with God’s help, we’re going make Georgia and America more prosperous than you could possibly imagine and safer than ever before,” Pence said at the tail end of his 30-minute speech in Savannah.

Thousands of doting fans crowded into the city’s convention center to hear the vice president, Kemp and a bevy of local elected officials in their final stop in the day.

Pence revived many of the zingers he used at earlier campaign stops in Dalton and Augusta.

Democrat Stacey Abrams, Pence said, is being "bankrolled by Hollywood liberals" and holds views that are outside the mainstream on issues from health care to immigration.

“It’s going to be a choice between a proven, commonsense, conservative leader in Brian Kemp or the failed liberal assistance agenda of Stacey Abrams," he said.

One of the people in the crowd was Brenda Gregory, an assistant kitchen manager who said it was her first-ever political rally.

“I just wanted to hear what the candidate had to say,” she said of Kemp. “Obviously I’m voting for him but I just wanted to hear from his own words what he stands for.”

John LaBarbera, an insurance salesman from Savannah, donned a “Gays for Kemp” t-shirt and Trump sneakers.

“For me it’s more an anti-Abrams vote than it is pro-Kemp,” he said. Abrams views are “very socialistic,” he added, and LGBT people who support her are acting like “sheep.”

“My country comes first, not my sexuality,” he said.


7:15 p.m. Kemp framed his race against Abrams as "literally a fight for our nation" during his final campaign rally of the day.

Speaking to a crowd of several thousand cheering supporters, Kemp said Abrams was running a “dishonest” and “radical” campaign that would lead to a government takeover of health care and give public benefits to undocumented immigrants.

“With your vote and your support we can end this craziness,” the secretary of state told his assembled Savannah supporters.

Kemp kicked off the rally with a word of thanks to the federal, state and local officials involved in rebuilding efforts following Hurricane Michael.

“I have never been prouder to be a Georgian,” he said. “We’re going to rebuild Southwest Georgia and South Georgia and it’s going to be even better than it was before.”

The event started roughly an hour late. Kemp and Pence were delayed coming out of Dalton earlier Thursday due to storms, and the two were spotted following their second rally in Augusta grabbing dinner a famous Georgia eatery.

“We had to make a brief stop in Chick-fil-A but we’re here,” Pence quipped as he hopped on stage.

Here’s a video of their pit stop:


5:55 p.m. President Donald Trump won't be trekking to Georgia until Sunday, but apparently the gubernatorial race is already high on his mind. The commander-in-chief told reporters on Thursday afternoon that he considers Abrams "not qualified" to be the state's top executive.

He did not elaborate much in his comments to White House reporters, who had asked about Oprah Winfrey’s Georgia visit, saying that Abrams’ “history and positions were bad.”

This isn’t the first time Trump has asserted the former state House minority leader and Yale law graduate isn’t up to snuff. He tweeted a similar comment last month.

Abrams has refrained from attacking Trump directly on the campaign trail. She previously quipped that Trump must have thought she won her past debate against Kemp after he last bashed her.


5:35 p.m. Before departing Augusta, Pence and Kemp indulged in an old Georgia tradition. The two stopped at a local Chick-fil-A before heading toward their final rally of the day in Savannah.


4:40 p.m. Vice President Mike Pence said Brian Kemp would make an ideal working partner for the Trump administration as he made his second pitch of the day for Georgia's GOP gubernatorial nominee.

“Two years of promises made and promises kept,” Pence said in Augusta, ticking off the Trump administration’s biggest highlights, including renegotiating NAFTA and ripping the teeth out of Obamacare’s individual mandate. “But we’re just getting started, Georgia, which is why we need Brian Kemp as our next governor.”

He said Kemp is a “proven leader” who would be able to work hand-in-glove with the administration on issues such as law enforcement and immigration.

“He’s a man of integrity and faith who lives out his values every single day,” he said. “Brian Kemp would make a great governor for the state of Georgia and in five days we’re going to make that happen.”

He invoked many of Abrams’ biggest gaffes from the campaign, including listing undocumented immigrants as part of the blue wave and saying that “people shouldn’t have to go into agriculture or hospitality in Georgia to make a living.” And he once again trashed her celebrity surrogates, including talk show host Oprah Winfrey and comedian Will Ferrell, and warned she wanted to grow government.

The vice president urged supporters to reject conventional wisdom that the party in power tends to suffer at the polls during the midterms but also urged the people assembled to get their friends to vote for the GOP.

“We made history in 2016 and we’re going to make history again in 2018 when we elect Republican majorities and send Brian Kemp to the statehouse,” he said.


4:15 p.m. Kemp urged supporters assembled at the Columbia County Exhibition Center to get their friends and neighbors to cast Republican ballots.

“If we do that, we will put a red wall around this great state and say no to that blue wall,” he said.

The Republican said he had “never been more proud as a Georgian” than when he saw the coordinated federal, state and local response to last month’s Hurricane Michael in south Georgia. He vowed to “be a governor who will always put you first.”

The GOP surrogates who took to the podium to warm up the crowd, including U.S. Sen. David Perdue and lieutenant governor nominee Geoff Duncan, hit many of the same notes as the Dalton rally.

Duncan warned about out-of-state Democrats coming to Georgia to “import their values, their problems” into the state. He said he wants liberal mega-donors such as Michael Bloomberg and George Soros to wake up on Nov. 7 and regret their financial investment in the state.

Perdue touted low unemployment rates among African-Americans and the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh as reasons why voters should keep the GOP in power. Democrats “want to make this race about mob rule, about government control,” he said. “We’re not going to let that happen in Georgia.”


3:20 p.m. Vice President Mike Pence just landed in Augusta. He is running nearly an hour late, and apparently storms are partially to blame. A tornado warning had been issued for portions of north Georgia and southern Tennessee.

Pence and Kemp are soon expected to take the stage at the Columbia County Exhibition Center, where surrogates are already beginning to warm up the crowd. Here’s a glimpse of the scene:

12:30 p.m. Vice President Mike Pence said a vote for Brian Kemp is tantamount to support for President Donald Trump, as he assailed Democrat Stacey Abrams and her high-profile supporters at a Thursday rally that attracted thousands in Dalton.

Claiming that Abrams is “bankrolled by Hollywood liberals,” he blasted Oprah Winfrey’s appearance with the Democrat at a pair of town halls in metro Atlanta, as well as actor Will Ferrell’s recent campaign appearance in Georgia.

“I’d like to remind Stacey and Oprah and Will Ferrell, I’m kind of a big deal, too,” said Pence. “And I’ve got a message for all of Stacey Abrams’ liberal Hollywood friends: This ain’t Hollywood. This is Georgia. And Georgia wants a governor that’s going to put Georgia values and Georgia first. And Brian Kemp is going to do just that.”

The barrage against Hollywood echoes a line of attack Republicans have employed throughout the campaign, but it also puts the state GOP in an uncomfortable position.

Republicans have long touted a tax credit that made Georgia into a filmmaking behemoth responsible for $2.7 billion in direct spending last year. And Abrams warns that Kemp's support of a "religious liberty" bill staunchly opposed by major production companies could eviscerate the industry.

Even as Kemp's critics seized on the incongruity of the attacks, his allies cheered the vice president's polarizing influence over conservative voters, whom the secretary of state will need to turnout at high levels to win next week's race for governor.

Polls show a razor-thin margin between the two candidates and both campaigns are quietly bracing for the possibility of a Dec. 4 runoff if neither gets the majority-vote needed to win outright.

Kemp has focused the closing stretch of his campaign on deeply-conservative rural areas and outer suburbs where Republicans have long held sway. Pence’s journey through Georgia zeroed in on territory outside metro Atlanta with a trio of events in Dalton, the outskirts of Augusta and Savannah.

Long lines of voters formed hours before Pence’s Dalton event, as more than 3,500 people crowded into a convention center, many of them wearing Trump’s telltale “Make America Great Again” caps. Among them was Taylor Bridges, who said his vote for Kemp was also to show support for the president.

“It’s like my hat says. We just want to make America great again,” he said. “There’s just so much that I think has been lost in this country.”

Inside, many of the Republican speakers split their time touting Republican achievements and assailing Abrams’ platform. Several poked fun at the Democrat for hosting events Thursday with Winfrey in Marietta and Decatur.

“Brian’s opponent brought in celebrity Oprah Winfrey to vote for her,” said Public Service Commissioner Tricia Pridemore, as the crowd booed. “Y’all remember Oprah’s show when she gave away cars – ‘You get a car, you get a car, you get a car?’ Isn’t that just like a Democrat?”

Others invoked Kemp’s frequent attacks on Abrams, whom he’s painted as an “extremist” who would expand the state government and increase bureaucracy.

“The Democrats have decided the road to the White House in 2020 rolls through Georgia. We’re not going to let that happen,” said U.S. Sen. David Perdue. “The road to socialism will never roll through the state of Georgia.”

Kemp, for his part, exhorted Republicans to rally their friends, neighbors and relatives to the polls to “stop this craziness.”

“This is the fourth quarter. I need you to show up like the Dawgs did in Jacksonville last weekend,” said Kemp, referring to Georgia’s victory over Florida in last week’s annual gridiron grudge match.

This is Pence's second trip to Georgia to stump for Kemp. He headlined a rally in Macon days before the July runoff, helping fuel Kemp's runaway victory over Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. He had to scrap two earlier campaign visits to the state in as many months because of hurricanes.

A pair of even bigger names will round out the pre-election frenzy: Former President Barack Obama will appear at Morehouse College on Friday evening, while Trump will headline a rally for Kemp in Macon on Sunday afternoon.

Pence spent much of his speech praising Trump’s economic record, his hardline stance on immigration and his appointment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

“It’s been two years of action. It’s been two years of results,” said Pence. “It’s been two years of promises made and promises kept. And we’re just getting started, Georgia. That’s why we need Brian Kemp in the governor’s office.”

And he peppered his speech with bracing attacks on Abrams, whom Republicans have long tried to brand as a creature of out-of-state liberals because a majority of her campaign cash comes from outside Georgia.

“Brian Kemp basically is Georgia. He embodies Georgia values,” said Pence, adding: “What Brian Kemp’s life is all about are principles and priorities -- just like the president has put into place over the last two years.”


12:00 p.m.  Republican Brian Kemp thanked the White House for "unwavering support" and vowed to work hand-in-hand with President Donald Trump if he's elected governor.

After branding Abrams a “radical,” he thanked the crowd for “standing up for Georgia” and said he would extend Gov. Nathan Deal’s legacy.

“With your vote we can stop this craziness. As governor, I’ll invest in public education and give our teachers a raise. We will cut taxes, like last year, and lower healthcare premiums. And I will fight hard to always protect the HOPE scholarship and keep our kids safe at school.”

He ended his short stump speech with a plea to Republicans to rally their friends, neighbors and relatives to the polls.

“This is the fourth quarter. I need you to show up like the Dawgs did in Jacksonville last weekend.”


11:00 a.m.  A string of down-ticket GOP candidates opened the event with some red-meat for the thousands of conservatives who packed the event.

Geoff Duncan, the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor, revved up the crowd by mentioning the news that Winfrey and former President Barack Obama are headed to Atlanta to help Abrams make her closing case.

“I think I like our speakers a little better – Vice President Pence and Donald J. Trump. Y’all know this. We’re running against Democrats from 49 other states. How fair is that? But guess what? We’re still going to win.”

Public Service Commissioner Tricia Pridemore went a step further, directly attacking Winfrey.

“Brian’s opponent brought in celebrity Oprah Winfrey to vote for her,” she said, as the crowd booed. “Y’all remember Oprah’s show when she gave away cars – ‘You get a car, you get a car, you get a car?’ Isn’t that just like a Democrat?”

House Speaker David Ralston, who has had a cordial relationship with Abrams, unleashed some of his harshest attacks on her since she entered the race, first by poking fun of her gaffe on national TV invoking a county that doesn’t exist.

“I think Glasgow County is what happens when you spend too much time in Neverland in California,” said Ralston.

He then claimed Abrams would undo Republican accomplishments over the last eight years, including rebuilding the state’s rainy day funds and the vote to slash the state’s income taxes.

“Are you going to let that happen? This is going to be a challenge,” said Ralston. “The Democratic nominee has carried Manhattan, Martha’s Vineyard and California. But I can promise you one thing – she’s not going to carry Whitfield County or Fannin County or Murray County. We’re going to do our part.”

Others invoked Kemp’s frequent attacks on Abrams, whom he’s painted as an “extremist” who would expand the state government and increase bureaucracy.

“The Democrats have decided the road to the White House in 2020 rolls through Georgia. We’re not going to let that happen,” said U.S. Sen. David Perdue. “The road to socialism will never roll through the state of Georgia.”


A crowd waits to enter Brian Kemp's campaign rally with Vice President Mike Pence.

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10:00 a.m. A crowd of hundreds lined up outside Dalton's convention center hours before Pence's appearance, filled with Republicans eager to show their support for Kemp and the administration.

Among them was Francis and Sandra Melancon, who both said they showed up to express gratitude for President Donald Trump. The Dalton couple vote GOP in every election, but they rarely show at political events.

“I want to make sure things stay on the right track,” said Francis Melancon, who works for the local phone company. “It’s been positive for us the last couple of years, since Trump’s election, and we don’t want that to change.”

Other voters echoed his status quo sentiment, a thread Kemp has relentlessly repeated on the campaign trail.

“It’s like my hat says. We just want to make America great again,” said Taylor Bridges, who was wearing a cap with Trump’s telltale slogan. “There’s just so much that I think has been lost in this country.”

Of Abrams, Bridges added: “To have someone like that representing us here in Georgia is just, it’d just be another progressive type stance toward trying to get things back to the way they were.”

As the crowd filed in, state Rep. Jason Ridley urged the crowd to send Abrams “back to Atlanta.”

“They want to talk about a blue wave,” said Ridley, R-Chatsworth. “I ain’t never seen a blue wave. The only color I’ve ever seen is red.”