The Georgia governor’s race, which captured the attention of the nation in a contentious campaign season and brought a sitting president and former president to the state to stump, was too close to call early Wednesday morning.
Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp worked the voters until the last minute. Abrams, a former state legislator who was trying to become the country’s first black female governor, bussed from Albany to her campaign party in a downtown Atlanta hotel with a stop at a Columbus barber shop on Buena Vista Road just before lunch.
Kemp spent Election Day working the phones before his family voted at his precinct on Marigold Lane in Winterville, just outside his hometown of Athens. He scheduled a victory party at the Classic Center in Athens.
As of 2:00 a.m., Kemp was leading 1,932,639 to Abrams’ 1,816,623, a 51-48 percent margin with 96 percent of the precincts reporting and absentee ballots still out. If neither candidate gets more than 50 percent, that would throw the race into a runoff on Dec. 4. Libertarian candidate Ted Metz had 35,820 votes, representing less than one percent of the vote.
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Abrams and her campaign refused to concede, believing that there are tens of thousands absentee ballots in the Democratic strongholds in Fulton County and south Georgia.
Campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo added that there were an unknown number of provisional ballots cast because of malfunctioning voting machines.
“Votes remain to be counted,” Abrams said at her Atlanta election night headquarters. “There are voices that were waiting to be heard. Across our state, folks are opening up the dreams of voters in absentee ballots and we believe our chance for a stronger Georgia is just within reach. But we cannot seize it until all voices are heard. And I promise you tonight we are going to make sure that every vote is counted, every single vote.”
High-powered officials make final push
President Donald J. Trump came to Macon on Sunday to campaign for Kemp and he said that electing Abrams would be a major mistake for Georgia.
“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.
Trump was echoing what Kemp has been saying on the trail since he won the Republican primary runoff in a landslide over Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in July.
“She is lying about me to hide her extreme agenda,” Kemp said. “She wants higher taxes, she wants bigger government and she wants a radical government takeover of health care and those are her so-called moderate positions.”
Abrams, in her closing argument to voters, recalled an experience from high school. In an email sent to supporters late Monday night, Abrams told a story of what happened to her in 1991 when she was valedictorian of Avondale High School. She, like many other top students from across the state, was invited to the governor’s mansion.
“When we got to the guard station, the guard looked at my parents, then he looked at me, and he said, ‘This is a private event, you don’t belong here,’” Abrams said in the email.
Her parents pushed back and the family, which had ridden a Marta bus to the Buckhead governor’s home, attended the reception, Abrams said.
“Looking back on that day, I don’t remember meeting the governor of Georgia,” she said. “I don’t even remember celebrating my accomplishments with valedictorians from 159 counties and 180 school districts. The only thing I remember is a man blocking the gates of the most powerful place in Georgia, telling me that I did not belong.”
Abrams has made the case that she is working hard for working-class Georgians “because I know what you are fighting for.”
“I believe we can educate our children in Georgia from cradle all the way to career,” she said at a late October campaign stop at Columbus State University. “It is not just about having a good place to learn. It’s about putting money back in the pockets of hard-working Georgia families so they can afford to take care of their children.”
This race has featured high-powered surrogates on both sides. In addition to Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Georgia Republican Gov. Nathan Deal and former University of Georgia football coach Vince Dooley have appeared with Kemp at campaign stops. In addition to Obama, 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 in Plains and metro Atlanta. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has been on the ground for Abrams.
“The character of our country is on the ballot,” Obama said during a Friday speech at Atlanta’s Morehouse College. “In the closing weeks in this election, we have seen repeated, constant, incessant, nonstop, attempts to divide us with rhetoric designed to make us angry or make us fearful ... rhetoric that is designed to exploit our history of racial, ethnic, and religious divisions, to try to pit us against one another.”
Voter suppression charges
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,” though she did not specifically say they could vote. Kemp continued that push in Columbus on Monday: “She is even running around asking illegals to vote for her in this election, to be part of the ‘Blue Wave,’” Kemp said. “Ladies and gentlemen, not even California is that liberal.”
In Middle Georgia
As a line of showers moved into Georgia on Tuesday, it posed the question: Can bad weather reduce turnout if the turnout already turned out?
Georgia’s early vote was historic, for a midterm, nearly twice that of 2014: Residents cast 2,071,830 ballots – 1,886,905 in-person and 184,925 by mail, according to the state.
In the last midterm, on Nov. 4, 2014, the tally was 945,507 early votes – 838,484 in-person and 107,023 by mail.
The three-week long early voting period brought out 55,513 voters in Macon-Bibb and Houston counties, which greatly outpaces early voting in the 2014 election when about half the amount voted in person.
There were also a little under 3,500 absentee ballots sent into Bibb as of Thursday. When added to in-person voting of 23,809, that comes out to more than 25 percent of registered voters in the county, elections officials said this week.
“The turnout has been outstanding,” Bibb elections supervisor Jeanetta Watson said. “Voters are coming out in record numbers ... This midterm election is a very historic election here in Macon-Bibb County. Since I’ve been here the last 10 or 15 years, I’ve never seen the turnout for a midterm election with this volume.”
In Houston County, the 2014 midterm elections had fewer than 15,000 votes in person through the Thursday before Election Day. In 2016’s election — headlined by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton — there were 34,389 voters.
This election cycle attracted 31,074 people to vote leading up to Friday, the final day of early voting, according to figures provided by Houston County Board of Elections.