‘Kickback Kemp’: Behind in polls, Abrams pushes new attack on governor

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

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

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Stacey Abrams launched a new line of attack against Gov. Brian Kemp that accuses the Republican of using his office to enrich himself and his allies as she tries a different strategy to overcome the incumbent’s lead in the polls.

A pair of 30-second TV ads that the Democrat debuted Monday label the governor “Kickback Kemp” and note that her opponent’s net worth grew by roughly $3.4 million while he was in office. It ends with a narrator asserting that Kemp is “making Georgia work for him — not you.”

Recent polls show Kemp with a solid lead over his Democratic rival. The most recent Atlanta Journal Constitution poll shows Kemp at 50% to 42% for Abrams.

Abrams’ aides say the ad is part of a broader effort to depict Kemp as an unscrupulous incumbent, though they said her campaign will continue to hammer the Republican on his support for abortion restrictions and permissive gun policies.

Kemp called the ads “comical” and said they were a sign his opponent was resorting to “a level of desperation.”

“They’re gonna do crazy things, but we can’t be distracted about that,” said Kemp. “She’s trying to distract Georgians from the issues that are at hand. And she’s been trying to do that the whole campaign, because she doesn’t want to talk about 40 year high inflation that’s been caused by a president that she worked to get elected.”

An AJC analysis found Kemp’s assets depreciated during his first year in office. But he increased his overall net worth by erasing $6.3 million in debt, much of which came from divesting from Hart AgStrong, a costly and controversial seed-crushing operation with plants in northeast Georgia and Kentucky.

Beyond Kemp’s personal finances, the “kickback” ads refer to the bumpy rollout of one-time federal aid to some of Georgia’s poorest residents, who are each eligible to receive payments of $350. A narrator calls the payouts a “smokescreen — Brian Kemp’s way of distracting you.”

The AJC reported last week that more than 800,000 Georgia residents have claimed the money and spent it largely on utility bills, groceries and other retail purchases.

But the terms for redeeming these funds have also sowed confusion. The payments cannot be converted into cash, and recipients are encountering difficulties when trying to use the money, which has so far been paid out in the form of a virtual pre-paid card.

And the ads also mention a no-bid contract awarded to Jackson Healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic to help overwhelmed hospitals get temporary nurses. Officials said the state has paid the Alpharetta-based firm more than $694 million since 2020.

Jackson Healthcare and the family that runs it have been political donors to Kemp’s campaigns.

In tandem with the ad rollout, Abrams’ campaign highlighted young Georgians who worry about their future under Kemp.

“As cliche as it sounds, I do want a future that I can see, and not have to cry about because I’m afraid as to whether or not I can even get there,” said Kaitlyn Baker, a veterinary assistant training to be a full veterinarian but is uninsured. “But with Stacey on board, I can afford everything I’m reaching for.”