Kemp cites Georgia’s economic success in bid for reelection

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Abrams highlights his decisions on abortion, guns

At a ceremony at Kia’s training center in West Point recently, Gov. Brian Kemp listened while executives of companies that make everything from automobiles to golf balls praised his leadership.

They touted his decision to ease health restrictions on businesses in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic and the record-low unemployment Kemp says resulted from that decision. They praised aggressive economic recruitment efforts that landed investments such as Hyundai and Rivian electric-vehicle plants. And they celebrated Georgia’s ninth consecutive year atop an industry publication’s list of the best states to do business.

It was a good summary of Kemp’s pitch as he campaigns for reelection against Democrat Stacey Abrams. And if anyone missed it, the Republican was happy to underscore the point in remarks to reporters after the West Point ceremony.

“Our economy would not be what it is today if Stacey Abrams had been our governor,” he said.

Kemp is campaigning on a promise to deliver the same kind of policies he says have benefited Georgia during his tenure. Abrams also says Georgians can expect more of the same from Kemp — and not in a good way.

She cites Kemp’s support for measures such as the state’s six-week abortion ban and a law that allows Georgians to carry concealed handguns without a license. She says these and other initiatives show Kemp is “too extreme for Georgia.”

ExploreWhere the candidates for Georgia governor stand on the issues

“Brian Kemp is a failed governor who has disqualified himself from a second term,” Abrams said in May, when Kemp won the Republican nomination.

In November, Georgia voters will decide whether they want more of the same from Kemp. In a closely divided state, polls suggest he holds a solid lead over Abrams, whom he narrowly defeated four years ago.

It’s a remarkable showing for a governor who must overcome not only dissatisfaction with decisions unpopular with liberal and moderate voters, but also attacks from former President Donald Trump and his supporters in the Republican Party.

It’s the kind of careful dance across a turbulent political landscape that Kemp has pulled off for more than four years.

Borrowing from Trump

Kemp was secretary of state when he sought the Republican nomination for governor in 2018. In a crowded field, he distinguished himself by borrowing themes from Trump.

He pledged to crack down on illegal immigration, expand gun rights and restrict abortion. And he courted rural Georgians who felt they’d been left behind.

In campaign ads, Kemp threatened to “blow up government spending” and — most famously — held a shotgun while challenging an actor playing his daughter’s suitor.

Aided by Trump’s endorsement, Kemp defeated then-Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in a runoff election.

Facing Abrams in the general election, he backed away from hot-button issues such as guns and abortion. He sought to soften his image and emphasized policies such as $5,000 raises for teachers.

It worked — Kemp defeated Abrams by just 54,723 votes out of 3.9 million ballots cast.

In office, he has delivered on promises to conservative voters. In 2019 he signed a law that prohibits abortions once a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat, typically about six weeks into a pregnancy and before many women know they’re pregnant.

Later abortions still are allowed in cases of rape or incest, when the life of the woman is in danger or when a fetus would not be able to survive after birth.

“All life has value, all life matters and all life is worthy of protection,” Kemp said when he signed the law.

A judge’s order initially prevented Georgia from implementing the law. But it took effect in July after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision protecting a woman’s right to an abortion.

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Gun rights supporters also won a victory this year when Kemp signed a law allowing Georgians to carry concealed handguns without a license. Guns are still prohibited in places such as the secured areas of airports or government buildings that have security at the entrance.

Both measures are unpopular with many Georgia voters. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution survey earlier this year showed nearly 70% of respondents do not believe Georgians should be allowed to carry concealed handguns in public without a license.

ExploreStacey Abrams aims for history with second run for governor

An AJC survey last month found 48% of voters are more likely to support a candidate who would protect abortion access, while 25% are more likely to support a candidate who would limit abortion.

Some Georgia Republicans have called for a total ban on abortions. Kemp has not endorsed a full ban and has seemed eager to change the subject to economic development and other issues.

Abrams’ campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Kemp. But she’s blasted his “extreme, dangerous and callous” abortion law. And she blamed his “dangerous gun agenda” when organizers canceled Atlanta’s Music Midtown festival this year, in part because a 2014 Georgia law allows guns in public parks and a recent court decision that made it harder for private groups to restrict guns from short-term events held on public land.

Among other things, Abrams also pinned the closure of Atlanta Medical Center on Kemp’s refusal to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, which Abrams says would have helped save the hospital. The company that owned the hospital said it wouldn’t have saved the facility.

Democrats have blasted Kemp’s handling of the pandemic. One study ranked Georgia’s response to the pandemic among the worst in the nation, as measured by such statistics as death, hospitalization rates and intensive care staffing shortages.

Kemp has also endured blistering attacks from Trump, who has seethed since the governor refused to aid the then-president’s effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. Trump backed former U.S. Sen. David Perdue in this year’s Republican primary for governor.

“If Brian Kemp is renominated, he will go down in flames at the ballot box,” Trump predicted at a rally in March.

‘Nobody’s been tested more’

Kemp has not gone down in flames. He embarrassed Perdue with a 52-point victory in the primary. And he leads Abrams in voter surveys.

Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political scientist, said Kemp benefits from record-low unemployment and major corporate investments in the state. Refunds for taxpayers and raises for teachers and state employees amid state budget surpluses also have helped.

“Folks like to have the sense that the economy is going well,” Bullock said. “The governor can point to these specifics that have happened on his watch.”

As he takes credit for good economic news, Kemp blames Washington Democrats for high inflation, which more voters consider a bigger problem than abortion restrictions, according an AJC poll. He has suspended Georgia’ gas tax to address high prices as well.

Kemp has also spent federal COVID-19 relief money that he condemned as wasteful on priorities such as law enforcement, rural broadband and the Grady Health System — the last an attempt to shore up regional trauma care after the Atlanta Medical Center announcement.

Fellow Republicans say Kemp’s economic record is a great asset.

“I think his chances are great if Georgia voters look at what he’s done over the last four years,” said state Sen. Randy Robertson, R- Cataula. “It’s like the old saying, sailors are made during storms. Nobody’s been tested more than Brian Kemp.”

That’s the pitch Kemp made at the West Point Kia facility. He billed himself as the latest steady hand in a line of governors who have made Georgia the best state in the country to do business.

“We’re fighting for the soul of our state,” Kemp said. “We are fighting for this environment and these (economic) numbers right here that I talked about today, that we created not only over the last four years, but over the last 20 years.”


About Brian Kemp

Age: 58

Born: Athens

Experience

  • Georgia Senate, 2002-2010
  • Secretary of state, 2010-2018
  • Governor: 2019-present
  • Private sector: Founder of Kemp Development and Construction Co. He also has been involved in other businesses and investments in banking, farming, timber, manufacturing and real estate.

Proposed policies

  • Use part of the state’s budget surplus for a $1 billion tax rebate
  • Use an additional $1 billion for a homeowners’ tax rebate
  • Fund efforts to address learning loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, increase the educator and school counselor workforce, and implement stronger school safety measures

About our coverage

The AJC is committed to ensuring that Georgians are fully educated about the candidates for governor and others who seek public office. It is critical that voters know where each candidate stands on important issues, what moneyed interests might influence them and whether the candidates have behaved ethically. Today’s focus is on Republican Brian Kemp.

The newspaper will, over the course of this election cycle, focus on each of the candidates.

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· Conduct deep background investigations with an eye toward past behavior and any potential conflicts that might raise questions on or provide insight into how a candidate might perform.

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· Attend forums and debates throughout the election cycle so you know how the candidates are staking out their positions and answering urgent questions. To access the newspaper’s ongoing coverage of politics, visit ajc.com/politics.