Kemp, Jones, Abrams group raise big money with an eye toward 2022

Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams and Republican candidate Brian Kemp greet each other before a debate during the 2018 race for governor. Kemp reported raising about $12 million for his 2022 reelection campaign. Abrams is considered a likely candidate in a rematch next year, but she hasn't declared yet. A voting rights group she formed, however, reported raising $6 million, more than any Georgia candidate over the past five months.  (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

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Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams and Republican candidate Brian Kemp greet each other before a debate during the 2018 race for governor. Kemp reported raising about $12 million for his 2022 reelection campaign. Abrams is considered a likely candidate in a rematch next year, but she hasn't declared yet. A voting rights group she formed, however, reported raising $6 million, more than any Georgia candidate over the past five months. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Gov. Brian Kemp has raised a record amount at this stage of a gubernatorial contest. His Republican opponent, former Democratic state Rep. Vernon Jones, said he’s raised more than anyone challenging an incumbent governor in a primary at this point of a race.

And the voting rights group that Democrat and potential Kemp challenger Stacey Abrams founded raised more than both of them over the past five months.

Thursday was financial show-and-tell day for 2022 candidates big and small in Georgia. It was the final day for candidates, political action committees and so-called independent committees to report what they’ve raised during the first part of 2021.

What the reports made clear is that, like the 2020 presidential and U.S. Senate races, next year’s statewide contests will be costly affairs likely to set state-contest records for spending on mailings, TV ads and get-out-the-vote efforts.

The biggest state contest is for governor. Kemp, like all incumbents, won’t be shy of money, with the state’s power brokers ready and willing to spend what it takes to see him get a second term.

His likely Democratic opponent, Abrams — whom Kemp beat in in 2018 — hasn’t yet announced for the race. But she set fundraising records in 2018, and Fair Fight — the group she founded after her defeat — has taken in and spent an unprecedented amount of money, a good bit of it to support Georgia Democratic candidates.

As of June 30, Kemp reported raising $11.9 million so far for his reelection bid, with about $9.2 million in cash on hand a year out from the primaries. That includes $3.9 million in cash collected over the past three months.

Kemp’s rapid fundraising pace has set a state record at this stage in a gubernatorial contest. And it comes as he faces pressure from challengers on his right flank while he prepares for an expected rematch against Abrams.

Jones said he raised $650,000 in the past 10 weeks in his bid to upset Kemp in next year’s Republican primary.

Rudy Giuliani, the ex-New York mayor and Donald Trump lawyer, was in town last week to help Jones raise money. Jones, like Giuliani, has advanced Trump’s conspiracy theories that massive fraud prevented the former president from being reelected last year.

Trump, who was beaten by Democrat Joe Biden, has criticized Kemp for not doing enough to overturn the election results in Georgia. The former president has not backed Jones, despite his regular attacks on Kemp. However, Jones expects more support from Trump’s inner circle.

“The support our campaign has attracted has made one thing clear: Georgians have not forgotten Brian Kemp’s betrayal of President Trump,” Jones said in a statement. “While Governor Kemp sat on the sidelines in 2020, I fought on the frontlines to restore the integrity of our elections and stop the steal.

“Georgia Republicans are tired of politicians who talk like Donald Trump but act like Mitt Romney.”

Abrams hasn’t begun raising money. But Fair Fight, reported Thursday that it raised $6 million in the past five months, more than any candidate. That puts the group over $100 million raised in the past 2 1/2 years.

Like Abrams, the group’s political action committee has national fundraising reach and it played a major role in promoting Georgia Democratic candidates in the 2020 elections.

It was the leading Georgia donor to the state party and worked to get out the vote that led to Democrats winning the presidential race and two U.S. Senate seats here.

Fair Fight’s PAC is expected to play a similar role in 2022, when Abrams may be on the ballot and Democrats will be looking to win state offices for the first time in more than a decade.

As has been typically the case, about 90% of the money Fair Fight raised in recent months came from outside of Georgia. By the end of June, the group reported having about $25 million in the bank.

The big-money reports weren’t only at the top.

Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, a Gainesville Republican, reported raising almost $2 million for his bid to replace Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who is not seeking reelection. Miller, a car dealer, did especially well collecting checks from his industry.

In the race to replace Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black — who is running for the U.S. Senate — state Sen. Tyler Harper, an Ocilla Republican, reported loaning his campaign $500,000, putting down a marker for potential opponents to match.

Republican Attorney General Chris Carr reported raising $1.3 million already this election cycle. His two Democratic challengers, state Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta, and Charlie Bailey, who nearly beat Carr in 2018, reported having raised $674,000 and $573,000, respectively.

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