Brian Kemp aims for the suburbs – with Glenn Youngkin’s help

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (left) and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (right)

Credit: Special

Credit: Special

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (left) and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (right)

Gov. Brian Kemp is aiming for metro Atlanta’s suburbs with the help of another Republican leader who channeled angst over education policies into electoral energy in a politically competitive state: Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

The two Republicans will stump together on Sept. 27 in Alpharetta, marking one of the Georgia governor’s first campaign forays into the competitive suburban communities ringing Atlanta since he won the May primary.

Just like in 2018, Kemp has focused much of his campaign on deep-red rural areas where he’s trying to drive up the score against Democrat Stacey Abrams. But while he hardly stumped in the suburbs four years ago, Kemp hopes to make new inroads this cycle.

He has a tough task ahead. After flipping Democratic in 2016 for the first time in decades, Cobb, Henry and Gwinnett counties now form a cornerstone of the state Democratic coalition. Abrams hopes to build on President Joe Biden’s 2020 gains in suburban and exurban communities while competing in rural areas.

But Kemp, who is leading Abrams 50-42 in the most recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll, aims to cut Abrams’ margins in those blue strongholds.

Youngkin’s strategy in Virginia has emboldened that approach. Ever since Youngkin won an upset victory by embracing cultural issues in the classroom, Kemp and his allies have tried to channel the same electoral forces to drive worried parents to the polls.

Gov. Kemp, Stacey Abrams tackle major issues as campaign trail heats up

Credit: AJC

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Credit: AJC

Kemp began sharpening his education platform in November, shortly after Youngkin defeated a Democratic front-runner by appealing to both Donald Trump supporters and more moderate suburbanites with a focus on classroom issues.

The centerpiece of the package he signed into law earlier this year seeks to direct how public school educators teach students about race and “divisive concepts” and creates an oversight committee that could block transgender students from playing on sports teams that don’t match the gender on their birth certificate.

Other new laws make it easier for parents to seek to remove books considered “obscene” or inappropriate from public school classrooms and coursework and boost a program that allows taxpayers to contribute to private school scholarships for a tax credit.

Kemp also signed legislation that lets parents opt their children out of mask mandates. That came shortly after Abrams drew backlash for taking maskless photos at a school surrounded by masked students and teachers.

And this month, he outlined a second-term education agenda that promised to spend an additional $65 million to address “learning loss” stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, recruit more counselors and help school staffers become full-fledged teachers.

But the effort to put K-12 schools on the political front lines also risks alienating teachers and others who oppose the election-year overhaul. Abrams has argued that it will provoke a backlash as she vows to raise teacher pay to a minimum of $50,000.

“When our pipeline is thinning and our exodus is increasing, we are losing the fight for our children’s future,” said Abrams. “We need a governor who does not see education as an election-year gimmick but sees our responsibility as a guarantee for the strongest future for our people.”

STATHAM -- Gov. Brian Kemp outlined a second-term education agenda outside Dove Creek Elementary School in Oconee County on Monday, Sept. 12, 2022. (TY TAGAMI/ty.tagami@ajc.com)

Credit: Ty Tagami

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Credit: Ty Tagami

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