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 here.
Claiming that Abrams is “bankrolled by Hollywood liberals,” he blasted Oprah Winfrey’s appearance Thursday 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,” Pence said at the event, his first of three stops in Georgia on Thursday. “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.”
Pence’s comments came hours before Trump himself weighed in on Winfrey’s visit and Abrams’ fitness for office. The commander in chief called Abrams “not qualified” to be governor, telling White House reporters that her “history and positions were bad” but not elaborating further.
The barrage against Abrams and many of her Hollywood surrogates echoes a line of attack Republicans have employed throughout the campaign, but it also puts the state GOP in an uncomfortable position.
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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 turn out at high levels to win Tuesday’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.”
‘You get a car’
Inside, many of the Republican speakers split their time touting GOP 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,” Public Service Commissioner Tricia Pridemore 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?”
Others invoked Kemp’s frequent attacks on Abrams, whom he’s painted as an “extremist” who would expand the state government and raise taxes. Abrams initially expressed support for reversing a measure that cut the state income tax rate, but she has since said she would not seek to undo the breaks.
“The Democrats have decided the road to the White House in 2020 rolls through Georgia. We’re not going to let that happen,” U.S. Sen. David Perdue said. “The road to socialism will never roll through the state of Georgia.”
And Kemp 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,” Kemp said, referring to the University of Georgia’s victory over the University of Florida in last week’s annual gridiron grudge match.
‘We need Brian’
This is Pence’s second trip to Georgia to stump for Kemp. He headlined a rally in Macon days before the July GOP runoff, helping fuel Kemp’s runaway victory over Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. He had to scrap two 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 to support Abrams, while Trump will headline a rally for Kemp in Macon on Sunday afternoon.
Pence spent much of his stump speeches Thursday praising Trump’s economic record, his hard-line stance on immigration and his appointment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“Two years of promises made and promises kept,” Pence said during another stop near Augusta. “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 Trump 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,” Pence said. “Brian Kemp would make a great governor for the state of Georgia, and in five days we’re going to make that happen.”
Pence 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. He invoked many of Abrams’ biggest gaffes from the campaign, including listing unauthorized 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.”
“Brian Kemp is going to stand with the men and women who want to go into agriculture as a career in Georgia,” he said. Working with the administration and on the state level, he added, “agriculture is going to be more prosperous than ever.”
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.