History, Trump and partisan bitterness collide in Georgia governor's race

Georgia voters decide open statewide seats, House races

The bitter campaign for Georgia governor reaches its climax Tuesday as voters choose between Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams in a contest both rivals frame as a battle for the soul of the state.

Abrams is the 44-year-old Atlanta attorney, former lawmaker and moonlighting romance novelist who'd be the first black woman in American history to be elected governor in any state and the first woman or nonwhite governor in Georgia history. She's already made history as the first black woman to be a major party gubernatorial nominee.

Kemp is the 54-year-old businessman and veteran secretary of state vying to keep the GOP's hold on a state that is nearing presidential battleground status courtesy of its growth and diversity. Republicans have won every Georgia governor's race since 2002.

The contest is so intense that early voting has approached the overall number of ballots cast in the governor's race four years ago. Georgia law requires a majority to win, so the presence of a Libertarian on the ballot could yield a Dec. 4 runoff.

The contest has turned bitter as Abrams and Kemp traded charges of shenanigans.

MORE: What you need to know before voting | Voter's Guide for Southeast Georgia

Abrams says Kemp abuses his current secretary of state post to make it harder for certain citizens to vote.

Kemp counters that Abrams and her backers want to help noncitizens cast ballots illegally.

Adding to the drama, Election Day voters will cast ballots amid an ongoing dispute over Kemp's management of the election system he runs in his current job as secretary of state, leaving open the possibility that partisans on the losing end may not quietly accept the outcome.

Kemp will watch the results from The Classic Center in Athens and Abrams will be at a Hyatt Regency in Atlanta.

"I've never seen a time where the state of Georgia had more at stake than we do in this contest," Kemp told supporters at one of his final campaign stops before Election Day polls open.

In the closing days, Kemp basked in President Donald Trump's glow, after a Sunday rally that drew thousands of boisterous Georgia Republicans to central Georgia to see Trump deplane from Air Force One and urge his support for Kemp.

Abrams, meanwhile, continued as she has throughout her campaign noting the potential historical significance but arguing the contest should be about more. "I don't want anyone to vote for me because I'm black," she told supporters in Savannah on Monday. "And no one on the ballot needs a vote because we're women. And I don't even want you to vote for us just because we're Democrats. You need to vote for us because we're better."

On policy, the principal dividing lines are health care (Abrams wants to expand Medicaid insurance; Kemp wants to maintain Georgia's refusal and boost rural hospitals other way); education (Kemp supports private school vouchers; Abrams opposes them); and criminal justice (Kemp is a law-and-order Republican; Abrams focuses rehabilitating non-violent offenders and criticizes cash bail as unfair to poorer defendants).

But even the policy debates have played out as much as cultural identity battles as they have nuanced debates over policy details.

Kemp and other Republican groups have blasted Abrams as an extremist with backing from "socialists" who, in Kemp's estimation, "want to turn Georgia into California."

Abrams blasts Kemp as "an architect of voter suppression" for the way he's opted to enforce federal and state election laws. Ballot access and election integrity flared up in the final weekend after a private citizen alerted the Georgia Democratic Party and a private attorney of potential vulnerability in the online voter database Kemp manages. Those private communications ended up with Kemp announcing, without providing any evidence, that he was launching an investigation into Georgia Democrats for "possible cybercrimes."

Kemp pushed back Monday against concerns that his call for an investigation is politically motivated.

But Abrams would have none of that, declaring Kemp a "bald-faced liar" intent on deflecting attention from security problems with his system.

The Georgia outcome is among the most closely watched of any midterm contests for reasons beyond Abrams' race and gender. Democrats are expected to pick up several governor's seats around the country, particularly across the Midwest region that helped propel Trump to the White House in 2016. But flipping what has been a GOP stronghold like Georgia would signal a potential meaningful shift in the electorate and open up a new battleground ahead of 2020.

Other key races

Georgia voters are turning out to decide several key Election Day contests beyond the heated race for governor.

Democrats hope enthusiasm for Abrams' campaign will also help them win open seats for lieutenant governor, secretary of state and insurance commissioner. Republicans have successfully shut out Democrats from holding any statewide office in Georgia since 2010.

Republican Reps. Karen Handel and Rob Woodall face strong Democratic challengers in metro Atlanta congressional districts long considered safe for the GOP. Democrats see a potential opening as demographic shifts have made the Atlanta suburbs less white.

Handel's opponent, gun control activist Lucy McBath, has ties to Jacksonville, Florida. Her son, Jordan Davis, was shot and killed at a Jacksonville gas station in 2012 after an argument over loud music. His killer was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Meanwhile, Republican incumbents on the utility-regulating Public Service Commission are running amid an outcry over spiraling costs for the Plant Vogtle nuclear plant expansion.


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