Kemp declares victory in governor’s race as Abrams camp holds on to runoff possibility

Democrat Stacey Abrams is aggressively trying to whittle rival Brian Kemp’s slim lead down in Georgia’s gubernatorial race to force a mandatory runoff next month, but the Republican has declared victory.

Twenty-four hours after polls had closed, the Abrams campaign estimated that as many as tens of thousands of provisional and absentee votes had yet to be counted. Abrams’ campaign Wednesday indicated that it’s banking on there being enough among those votes to get Kemp below a 50 percent plus 1 threshold and force a runoff election under state law that would be held Dec. 4.

But Kemp is the winner outright and he’s beginning his transition to office, his campaign staff said early Wednesday evening. Kemp’s staff said that there were about 3,000 absentee ballots outstanding and roughly 22,000 provisionals.

Four minutes before the Republican’s press call was scheduled to begin, the secretary of state’s office issued a statement with similar outstanding ballot numbers.

Abrams’ campaign, citing reports from observers in the field, said that they had no reason to believe that data.

Kemp was leading Abrams Wednesday 50.3 percent to 48.6 percent, according to the Associated Press, with less than 1 percent for Libertarian Ted Metz. Kemp and Abrams were separated by about 63,000 votes.

The Abrams camp embarks on its runoff quest wary that Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state and overseer of its election system, can fairly preside over a challenge to his election to the state’s highest office. Lauren Groh-Wargo, Abrams’ campaign manager, said “all options are on the table” — including litigation — to insure that all votes are counted.

Kemp’s declaration of victory “was not a credible declaration,” said Groh-Wargo. She said the Abrams team sees a path to a recount or even a runoff.

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Lauren Groh-Wargo, campaign manager for Stacey Abrams, takes the stage Tuesday night at Abrams’ campaign rally in downtown Atlanta, GA. Mike Haskey mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com

But Kemp campaign strategist Austin Chambers said that it will be impossible for Abrams to get into a runoff or even a recount situation, even if three-quarters or more of roughly 25,000 outstanding ballots, the number his campaign accepts, go to the Democrat.

“The takeaway is clear, this election is over, the votes have been counted and there is a clear winner. Brian Kemp is the governor-elect in Georgia based on what we know right now,” said Chambers.

Kemp expressed confidence in the wee hours of Wednesday morning that he will be declared the winner of the election which saw over 3.9 million Georgians cast ballots.

“There are votes left to count but we have a very strong lead and, folks, make no mistake, the math is on our side to win this election,” Kemp said from his election headquarters in Athens. “We are waiting on the final results but I’m confident victory is near.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp walks on stage with his family before speaking to his supporters early Wednesday morning during a campaign watch party in downtown Athens. Jason Vorhees jvorhees@macon.com

Counties must certify their election results by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 13. Then the secretary of state has until Nov. 20 to certify those county results, according to the office.

Absentee ballots will take a while to count due in part to the “duplication” process. That’s how counties handle things like ballots that arrive bent or torn from the mail: county election offices duplicate the voter’s choices onto another sheet of paper that can be fed through a scanner.

Abrams, who is vying to be the nation’s first African-American female governor, signaled the runoff strategy early Wednesday morning when she refused to concede the race.

“I want to say this: If I wasn’t your first choice, or if you made no choice at all, you’re going to have a chance for a do-over,” she told supporters at her Atlanta election headquarters. “Votes remain to be counted. There are voices 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.”

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams speaks to her supporters Tuesday night during a campaign rally in downtown Atlanta. She gave a fiery speech urging supporters to wait until all votes were counted before losing hope. Mike Haskey mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com

Abrams’ campaign announced an “aggressive provisional ballot chase program” on Wednesday, described as a campaign to ensure that every eligible voter’s voice is heard.

Abrams campaign officials made it clear Wednesday that they have little faith in Kemp’s office to conduct vote-tallying fairly.

“This is why we have had such a steady drumbeat around the need for Brian Kemp to resign,” Groh-Wargo said. “We did not want to be in this situation. And we are here.”

Chambers called Democrats “desperate,” saying the party had gone from pinning its hopes on outstanding precincts, to absentee ballots to provisionals.

“You know losing politicians and desperate politicians do desperate things, so who knows what they’re going to throw next,” said Chambers. “But we know this it’s not going to change the outcome.”

William Douglas: 202-383-6026, @williamgdouglas
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