By JEFF AMY
ATLANTA (AP) — Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp turned back a second electoral challenge from Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams, maintaining GOP control in the South’s most politically competitive state and dealing another defeat to the national Democratic star.
“Well, it looks like the reports of my political death have been greatly exaggerated,” Kemp told supporters in a sometimes-defiant victory speech Tuesday night after two years of trouble had threatened to snuff out his reelection bid.
Kemp argued in his victory speech that his campaign, which saw him use the power of his office to shower tax cuts and cash on voters while attacking Abrams for being insufficiently supportive of police, was a recipe for Republican success in Georgia. Democrats believed that an increasing share of nonwhite voters would put them on the path to victory in the state.
“This election proves that when Republicans stay focused on real world solutions that put hard-working people first, we can win now, but also in the future, y’all.” Kemp said.
Abrams told supporters that her efforts have not been in vain, saying her fight had allowed people to imagine a different state.
“I may no longer be seeking the office of governor, but I will never stop doing everything in my power to make sure the people of Georgia have a voice.”
The Associated Press had not yet called the race Wednesday morning.
Kemp, who was a developer before serving as a state senator and secretary of state, clinched another term despite attacks from former President Donald Trump. Kemp, 59, seemed on shaky ground among Republicans after the 2020 presidential election, when Trump blamed him for not doing enough to overturn President Joe Biden’s narrow win in Georgia. Trump helped lure former U.S. Sen. David Perdue into a primary challenge to Kemp, whom he called a “complete and total failure”.
But Kemp motored away from Perdue during the GOP primary, winning nearly 74% of the vote. Kemp patiently explained his election actions to Republicans even as he used his office to sign conservative-pleasing bills loosening gun laws, cutting taxes and banning “divisive concepts” in schools.
Kemp continued to highlight his stewardship of the state economy and his decision to relax public restrictions early in the COVID-19 pandemic in his victory speech.
“They came after us,” Kemp said of critics of loosening pandemic restrictions. “But the truth was on our side. They attacked us because even when times were tough, and decisions were hard to make, we did the right thing for hard working Georgians and their families. We did not waver.”
Kemp also gave billions in tax breaks and handouts using federal and state money. He pushed laws to suspend the state gas tax, give $1 billion of state income tax refunds and even give $350 to every person in the state on public assistance. He also pledged another income tax break and a property tax break if reelected, portraying the cash as helping Georgians “fight through 40-year-high inflation and high gas prices” that he blamed on Biden, Abrams and other Democrats.
Nearly half of Georgia voters say the economy is the most pressing issue facing the country, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of more than 3,000 voters in the state.
Roughly a third of Georgians say their family is falling behind financially. A majority of those voters cast ballots for Kemp and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker.
The slight proportion of voters — about 1 in 10 — who say their families are getting ahead financially were more likely to vote for Democratic candidates, including Abrams and U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.
Rising costs were named as a top concern among the state’s voters, with roughly 9 in 10 saying the inflated prices of groceries, gas and other goods were an important factor in how they cast ballots. Among those who said they considered inflation in their voting decision, roughly half said the cost of groceries and food was the most important factor.
Abrams, a lawyer whose 2018 loss to Kemp helped launch her into Democratic stardom, would have been the first Black woman to serve as a governor in the United States if she had won.
Abrams spent the four years since her defeat laying the groundwork for another run. She formed a forceful voting rights advocacy group — Fair Fight Action — and built her own personal wealth as Democrats gobbled up her books and paid to attend her speeches.
Her national profile was so high that she was considered as a possible running mate for Biden or even a candidate for president herself. That helped Abrams outraise Kemp with the help of a state law that allows candidates for governor to accept unlimited contributions through an associated committee.
Abrams raised $85 million through Sept. 30, but even Kemp’s $60 million would have by far been a record for a governor’s race in Georgia, as he sought to build a national fundraising base. And Abrams’ financial advantage was never enough to run away with the race — Kemp has led in polls throughout.
Abrams, 48, rolled out a campaign that she once described as “rife with plans,” including a big pay raise for teachers, legalizing casino and sports gambling to pay for more college aid, expanding Medicaid health insurance, aiding small and minority-owned businesses, and making housing more affordable. At the same time, Abrams pledged to tighten Georgia’s gun laws and roll back abortion restrictions, arguing Kemp was far from moderate.
“The state of Georgia, the people of Georgia, deserve more,” Abrams said Tuesday.
Roughly 7 in 10 voters also identified the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the constitutional right to an abortion as an important factor in their vote. About a quarter of voters described it as the single most important factor; these voters were more likely to cast a ballot for Warnock and Abrams.
Kemp launched frequent attacks on Abrams, accusing her of not supporting police. A sizable majority of voters identified crime as a factor in their how they cast ballots, AP VoteCast found. More than 8 in 10 voters described it as an important issue.
Associated Press writers Sudhin Thanawala in Atlanta and Amanda Seitz in Washington, D.C. contributed.
Learn more about the issues and factors at play in the midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections. And follow the AP’s election coverage of the 2022 elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections.