The Jolt: Abrams and Kemp go hunting for new voters

Gov. Brian Kemp campaigns with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and members of his family in Sandy Springs on May 14, 2022. Greg Bluestein/AJC

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Gov. Brian Kemp campaigns with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and members of his family in Sandy Springs on May 14, 2022. Greg Bluestein/AJC

TOCCOA – Stacey Abrams narrowly missed forcing a runoff against Brian Kemp in 2018 thanks to a strategy focused on mobilizing voters who typically skip midterms. Kemp bested her by building a rural “red wall” that withstood the wave of Democratic energy.

Four years later, the two familiar rivals are again on the hunt for Georgians who regularly vote in high-turnout presidential elections but stay home during other contests.

In their nationally-watched rematch, both are hungry to expand an electorate so tightly divided that even a small bump in turnout can have a big influence on the election’s outcome.

Though Abrams stands to soak up most of her votes in metro Atlanta and other left-leaning areas, she has spent a considerable time in reliably Republican parts of the state seeking to energize disenchanted voters.

She frames Kemp at each stop as a Republican who “doesn’t care” about Georgians, closing with an attack on his support for anti-abortion legislation that she says treats women as “second-class citizens.”

As an Abrams campaign memo this week contends, the campaign expects deep-rooted opposition to Republican anti-abortion policies to fuel a surge in turnout from voters who might not otherwise have joined her electoral coalition.

As she framed it at a stop in Dalton: “If we want to go back to being a state that believes in the women of Georgia, we’ve got to remove the man who does not want us to be here.”

Like in 2018, Kemp is trying to win huge margins in Georgia’s agricultural heartland to fend off the Democrat’s second bid for governor.

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Supporters stand to applaud as Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams speaks during a visit to the Mack Gaston Community Center in Dalton, Ga., Friday, July 29, 2022. (Matt Hamilton/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP

Credit: Matt Hamilton

Supporters stand to applaud as Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams speaks during a visit to the Mack Gaston Community Center in Dalton, Ga., Friday, July 29, 2022. (Matt Hamilton/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP

Credit: Matt Hamilton

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Supporters stand to applaud as Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams speaks during a visit to the Mack Gaston Community Center in Dalton, Ga., Friday, July 29, 2022. (Matt Hamilton/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP

Credit: Matt Hamilton

Credit: Matt Hamilton

Back then, he outperformed Trump in several of the state’s most conservative counties.

This election, he’s aiming to better his margins by tying Abrams to stubborn inflation, high energy prices and, above all, President Joe Biden.

Less than two years after he became the first Democratic nominee to carry Georgia in decades, Biden’s approval ratings hover at 36% in the most recent AJC poll.

The election, as he likes to say, is a test of Republican resilience in a state where the GOP has been forced to play defense.

“We’ve been in control for a long time. We’ve got to run like we’re hungry again, like we did back in the mid-2000s,” Kemp said after a campaign stop in Toccoa.

“We’ve got to bring that mentality back, that work ethic back, and we have to have the ground game to do that as well,” he said. “Quite honestly, the Democrats have beaten us at that game. But we’re not going to let that happen in this election.”

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STAY TUNED. Stacey Abrams this morning scheduled what her campaign described as a “major economic address” on Tuesday to discuss her fiscal policies.

She’s already promised a $1 billion tax rebate and salary hikes for teachers and some law enforcement officers, but she’s expected to unveil more proposals to counter the Republican narrative that Democrats are to blame for the shaky economy.

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EMOTIONAL VISIT. There’s a lot of backslapping and selfie-taking on the Georgia campaign trail. But every so often, there’s a connection between a candidate and a supporter that transcends the usual schmoozing.

That’s what happened on Thursday at a stop at Currahee Station, a diner known for its fluffy buttered biscuits and caffeine-infused smoothies.

Almost as soon as Gov. Brian Kemp entered the restaurant, he was embraced by Hunter Bell. Smiling broadly, Kemp told the 25-year-old how proud he was of his recovery.

Bell was seriously injured in a horrific head-on collision in December. He nearly died from the collision – his family said he flatlined twice at the hospital – and he still has a long road ahead of him.

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Gov. Brian Kemp and his wife Marty pose for a picture with Tyler Bell.

Credit: File

Gov. Brian Kemp and his wife Marty pose for a picture with Tyler Bell.

Credit: File

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Gov. Brian Kemp and his wife Marty pose for a picture with Tyler Bell.

Credit: File

Credit: File

Kemp told Bell how proud he was to see him on the mend and told him he was following every step of his rehabilitation on social media. Bell mouthed Kemp’s mantra: “Keep chopping.”

Bell’s father, Stephens County Commissioner Dennis Bell, watched the reunion with tears in his eyes. When the coffee shop emptied a few minutes later, he sat at a spare table and talked about his son’s ordeal.

“We had some tough decisions to make,” the commissioner said. “And to be honest, we didn’t think that he would ever be where he is right now. They didn’t think he would walk or talk again, and by the grace of God, the prayers came through.”

When the governor learned about the accident, he and his wife Marty kept in close contact with the family. Both grew emotional when they saw him awaiting them at the diner.

“To go through what he’s been through and still be here, it’s just amazing,” the governor said after a luncheon in nearby Clayton. Marty added: “It’s a special family.”

Back in Toccoa, Dennis Bell said his son still faces an arduous recovery, but he’s optimistic.

“He’s walking. He’s talking,” Bell said. “He’s got a ways to go — but he’s doing good.”

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DODGEBALL. Republican Senate hopeful Herschel Walker continues to duck questions about whether he’d back federal legislation to codify same-sex marriage.

The idea has gained more traction after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade appeared to put other landmark rulings, including the decision that legalized same-sex marriage, at risk of being reversed.

A federal same-sex marriage measure passed the House in July with support from every Democrat in the House and 47 Republicans. In the Senate, five GOP members back the idea and eight are against. The other 37 haven’t weighed in, according to FiveThirtyEight.

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Republican Senate canididate Herschel Walker speaks to supporters during a campaign stop, Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Ellijay, Ga. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart, Pool)

Credit: AP

Republican Senate canididate Herschel Walker speaks to supporters during a campaign stop, Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Ellijay, Ga. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart, Pool)

Credit: AP

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Republican Senate canididate Herschel Walker speaks to supporters during a campaign stop, Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Ellijay, Ga. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart, Pool)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Count Walker in the latter group. Asked directly about the measure at a Thursday press conference in Milton, the Republican criticized the question and pivoted to economic issues.

“You’re talking about these things that most of the people I’m seeing on the streets aren’t talking about … They’re worried about how they’re going to go home and buy gas. That’s not what they’re worried about now. They’re worried about buying gas.”

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DEBATE SAGA PART 82. You know the details by now: U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock months ago accepted three debates.

After plenty of hedging, Republican Herschel Walker this week said he would participate in a debate – though not any of the ones that Warnock confirmed.

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Georgia's Senate candidates give their views on inflation, climate change and health care

Credit: AJC

Georgia's Senate candidates give their views on inflation, climate change and health care

Credit: AJC

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Georgia's Senate candidates give their views on inflation, climate change and health care

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

At the stop in Milton, we asked whether that meant the other three debates okayed by Warnock – a WTOC event in Savannah, a Mercer University debate in Macon and an Atlanta Press Club debate – were off the table.

Walker indicated they were, adding that he would also accept a “Lincoln-Douglas debate” on budget reconciliation at an undisclosed site.

“You know he’s scared. If he wasn’t scared, he would have said that this is a fair equitable debate in front of his hometown.”

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RECONCILE THIS. Democratic U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona endorsed the federal climate, tax and health care plan late Thursday, putting Democrats on the cusp of approving a cornerstone of President Joe Biden’s agenda.

Georgia Democratic Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock also support the plan, while all 50 Republicans are expected to unify against it. State Republicans have also rallied against the measure as they try to frame the midterm election as a referendum on Biden’s handling of the economy.

The Senate is out today but will take procedural votes on the bill Saturday, starting a long slog through what is expected to be dozens of proposed amendments. A final vote is expected some time next week.

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TODAY IN WASHINGTON:

  • The House and the Senate are out, although the Senate is back Saturday and will work through the weekend.
  • President Joe Biden will sign a bill intended to beefen up investigations of those who obtained COVID-19 business funds fraudulently.
  • U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is among the featured speakers at the conservative CPAC conference, which is being held in Dallas this year.

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MONKEYPOX. The Biden administration officially declared the monkeypox outbreak as a public health emergency on Thursday.

The designation will allow more federal dollars to flow toward combating the spread of monkeypox and could lead to wider and faster distribution of the vaccine.

The World Health Organization has also declared the monkeypox outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.” The first U.S. case of the outbreak was identified in May; there have been over 500 cases in Georgia.

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RED AND GREEN. Commissioners in Athens-Clarke County made their jurisdiction the latest in Georgia to decriminalize marijuana.

The AJC’s George Mathis reports that commissioners signed off on eliminating jail time for people found with less than an ounce of weed and lowered the fine to $35. That is the lowest of the 13 total jurisdictions statewide that have also decriminalized cannabis.

Athens-Clarke commissioners discussed reducing the fine as low as $1 but state fees meant they needed to charge at least $35, according to the city attorney.

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BATHROBE MULLY. We’ll leave you with an image you can’t unsee: A snapshot of retiring state Sen. Jeff Mullis donning a cowboy hat and some sort of bathrobe at a Georgia Forestry Association event last week.

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Retiring state Sen. Jeff Mullis

Credit: File

Retiring state Sen. Jeff Mullis

Credit: File

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Retiring state Sen. Jeff Mullis

Credit: File

Credit: File

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AS ALWAYS, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com and greg.bluestein@ajc.com.

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