President Donald Trump stumped for Republican Brian Kemp Sunday, saying a vote for Democrat Stacey Abrams, the first black woman to be nominated for the state’s highest office, would take the state backward.
“In just two days the people of Georgia are going to elect Brian Kemp as their next governor,” he told a rally of thousands at Middle Georgia Regional Airport. “This is a very important election. I wouldn’t say it’s as important as 2016, but it’s right up there, it really is.”
The president’s message was simple: If you like me, you’ll like Kemp.
“I know Brian,” Trump said. “He will take it to new heights, heights you will never believe.”
Trump rhetorically lashed out at Abrams, saying that she’ll bring a liberal agenda to the governor’s mansion that will harm the state’s economy and health care system.
“You put Stacey in there and you’re going to have Georgia turn into Venezuela,” Trump said, referring to the socialist South American country where many are starving.
Before arriving in Georgia, Trump told reporters in Washington that “If she gets in, Georgia goes backwards ...If he gets in, Georgia goes forward.”
Trump’s comments Sunday were a reprise of remarks he made Thursday when he called Abrams, a former Georgia state House minority leader, “unqualified” to be governor.
Abrams, who is vying to be the nation’s first African American female governor, shot back at Trump Sunday on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” calling Trump’s assessment “vapid and shallow.”
“I am a tax attorney who has trained at Yale Law School. I am a civic leader who helped to register more than 200,000 Georgians,” she said. “I am a very accomplished political leader who worked across the aisle to improve access to education, transportation.”
The Georgia governor’s race has become one of the most watched elections in the country and is largely considered a preview of the 2020 presidential election. Abrams and Kemp are drawing sharp lines between liberal and conservative policies ranging from health care to immigration.
Trump bucked the Republican Party establishment when he endorsed Kemp over Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in a tweet ahead of the GOP runoff election in May.
Cagle was the heavily funded front-runner before Trump’s endorsement and before a former opponent from the Republican primary released a secretly recorded tape of Cagle admitting that he backed a piece of legislation that he know wasn’t sound solely to prevent another lawmaker from receiving millions in campaign contributions.
Kemp ran a Trump-like primary and runoff campaigns that appealed to the state’s conservative base. A self-proclaimed “politically incorrect conservative,” Kemp ran ads that featured him holding a shotgun that “no one’s taking away” and him sitting in the huge pickup truck that he owns “just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take ‘em home myself.”
The governor’s race has drawn national attention and attracted celebrity and political star power. Trump arrived in Macon the day after former President Barack Obama headlined a rally at Atlanta’s Morehouse College.
Billionaire media mogul Oprah Winfrey stumped for Abrams in the Atlanta suburbs on Thursday. Actor Will Ferrell has also done shoe-leather campaigning for Abrams recently.
Republicans dispatched its stars with Vice President Mike Pence, Georgia Republican Gov. Nathan Deal and presidential daughter-in-law Lara Trump campaigning beside Kemp at stops last week.
But the race has been dominated by charges of voter suppression by Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state and overseer of the election system, by Democrats and the Abrams camp.
Kemp has been secretary of state since 2010. During his tenure, more than 1.4 million voter registrations have been canceled. About 53,000 voter registrations had been put on hold under a state law requiring the applicant’s name to exactly match that on other government records.
An Associated Press investigation found that almost 70 percent of those registrations were from African American applicants.
On Friday, a federal judge ruled that Georgia must allow over 3,000 - mostly new U.S. citizens - whose registrations were flagged under the “exact-match” law to vote on Tuesday.
Kemp calls allegations of voter suppression absurd. He said that under his leadership, voter registration in Georgia has grown to over 6.6 million. He said the concerns about voter suppression are a manufactured crisis created by Abrams.
Kemp’s secretary of state office said that eligible voters who are on the “pending” list are still able to vote if they bring the proper identification that matches their registration information.
Kemp alleges that Abrams has encouraged undocumented immigrants to vote, citing a speech she gave last month in which she mentioned them as part of the Democratic “blue wave,” citing a speech that Abrams gave last month in which she mentioned them as part of the “blue wave” - though she did not specifically say they could vote.
Kemp added another potential incendiary charge to the campaign Sunday: hacking.
Without providing details, Kemp’s secretary of state’s office announced that it was launching an investigation into the Democratic Party of Georgia after a “failed attempt to hack the state’s voter registration system.”
“I can confirm that the Democratic Party of Georgia is under investigation for possible cyber crimes,” Candice Broce, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office, said in a statement. “We can also confirm that no personal data was breached and our system remains secure.”
Georgia Democratic Party Executive Director Rebecca DeHart, called the allegation “scurrilous” and “100 percent false.”
“This political stunt from Kemp just days before the election is yet another example of why he cannot be trusted,” DeHart said in a social media message.
Abrams, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said Kemp is “trying to turn the conversation away from his failures, from his refusal to honor his commitments, and from the fact that he is part of a nationwide system of voter suppression that will not work in this election because we’re going to outwork him, we’re going to outvote him, and we’re going to win.”
Georgia Republican Party officials say Trump’s visit will benefit Kemp in an election that’s expected to be close on Tuesday.
“You tell me this won’t help drive out Kemp votes from all over the state of Georgia,” Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., said, pointing to the crowd after the rally.
But Cindy Poss, who drove two hours from Augusta, Georgia, doubts the rally will accomplish much.
“I don’t know if it’s going to do anything because I think everybody’s got their minds made up,” said Poss, 59. “We’re here because we love Donald Trump.”