Kemp vs. Abrams: What to expect in round two

Stacey Abrams lost to Brian Kemp in 2018 by less than 55,000 votes. Here’s what’s different about their 2022 rematch.
Published: May. 24, 2022 at 8:40 PM EDT|Updated: May. 26, 2022 at 12:25 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - Stacey Abrams won only 19 counties in her 2018 campaign to become the nation’s first African-American female governor. But she lost the election by only 54,723 votes, despite Brian Kemp’s victory in 130 counties.

This year, Abrams will once again face Kemp in her quest for the governorship. Abrams won her party’s uncontested primary Tuesday night, and was officially declared its winner shortly before 7:20 p.m.

Kemp defeated four other GOP hopefuls - including former U.S. senator David Perdue - in Tuesday night’s Republican gubernatorial primary.

But there are major differences between this race and 2018′s, which was one of the nation’s most watched governor’s races.


Kemp has four years of incumbency on which to run, and he’s sure to use his first term as governor to remind voters of his accomplishments. Just days before Tuesday’s primary, Kemp appeared with executives from Hyundai Motor Group to announce a $5.5-billion electric vehicle plant near Savannah.

Abrams won the metropolitan Savannah counties of Chatham and Liberty in 2018 by solid margins, but expect Kemp to remind those voters of what he called the largest economic development project in Georgia history.

“Kemp will talk about the Hyundai plant and other efforts he’s made to create jobs and boost the economy,,” said Dr. Charles Bullock, a professor of political science at the University of Georgia. “Abrams, however, will point to elements of his record that she views as negative.”

Mark Rountree, president of polling company Landmark Communications, said Georgia’s growing number of Asian and Hispanic populations could make the difference in a race that was decided by only a few thousand votes four years ago.

“What’s interesting is that, historically speaking, when political pundits previously talked about growing diversity in the electorate, we were pretty much just talking about growth of the percentage of Black registered voters,” Rountree said. “But over the last four years, the percentage of the white vote and the black vote has gone down, but non-Black minorities, such as Asians and Hispanics, have gone up.”

>> Why does Georgia have so many counties?

Rountree said Hispanic and Asian voters are split between candidates of each political party.

On Saturday, Abrams posted a tweet criticizing Kemp for what she called the state’s poor ratings regarding mental health care, infant mortality and other social barometers.

“Kemp will turn that around and point to how Georgia continues to grow,” Bullock said. “A lot of people obviously think Georgia is a great place to move to and get a job. Kemp will say she’s out of step with reality.”

“Demographically, a lot of people are moving to Georgia,” said Dr. Amy Lynn Steigerwalt of Georgia State University’s political science department. “But a major difference between now and 2018 is that Democrats have shown they now have a voter mobilization network that spans the state’s entirety, which wasn’t true before. And a lot of national attention remains on Georgia.”

Former president Donald Trump endorsed former U.S. senator David Perdue in his quest to unseat Kemp in the GOP primary.

“Kemp is part of a Republican Party that isn’t as unified as you’d expect,” Steigerwalt said. “Trump helped Kemp win the 2018 GOP gubernatorial primary, but now he’s public enemy No. 1.”

While Trump likely won’t campaign or endorse Abrams, “he could just urge GOP voters to stay home this November,” Steigerwalt said.

Then there’s the issue of abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court could soon issue a ruling that may overturn Roe v. Wade.

Hundreds show up for abortion rally in downtown Atlanta

“Georgia’s abortion bill is a mixed bag for Kemp,” Bullock said. “The bill, which would ban abortions after a heartbeat is detected, is popular among his base, but not popular among most Georgians.”

While Abrams’ supporters cite Georgia’s changing demographics, they also remain laser-focused on new voter registration.

“Demographics aren’t destiny,” said Cliff Albright who, along with LaTosha Brown, co-founded Black Voters Matter in 2016, and where he now serves as executive director. “It’s not enough that demographics of the state or country are changing. It takes work to turn changing demographics into a political reality.”

Guy Milner, who twice ran for governor and once for the U.S. Senate in the 1990s, said Kemp’s rift with former President Donald Trump over Georgia’s 2020 presidential election isn’t a hindrance to Kemp. Former Vice President Mike Pence rallied with Kemp just hours before Tuesday’s election.

“I don’t think Brian is popular because Pence is supporting him,” Milner, whose three attempts at elective office were unsuccessful, said. “I think Pence is going to be popular because Brian is is encouraging his involvement.”