Who Really Won the 2018 Georgia Governor Election?

Who “Really” Won the 2018 Georgia Governor Election?

Mark Clemente, Fall 2020

Two thousand and eighteen was a contentious election year and two years removed from one of the most polarizing elections in our lifetime. It was a midterm election and they never get as much coverage or voters as General Elections. With low voter turnout we see incumbents roll to victory in House and Senate races that they have won for years. “Overall, in the 1974-2018 period, incumbents won renomination at the following rates: 97% for senators, 99% for representatives, and 95% for governors.” [1] In states that are traditionally red or blue you sometimes see the opposite party in control of the Governorship. For example, Governors Charlie Baker in Massachusetts, Larry Hogan in Maryland and Phil Scott in Vermont are all Republicans. In 2016 Hillary Clinton, Democrat nominee for President won Massachusetts by 27 points, Maryland by 26 points and Vermont by 28 points. It shows us people vote differently when it comes to President versus Governor. The state we will investigate is a southern state and known to be heavily Republican in its federal and state races.

Since Democrat Governor Roy Barnes left office on January 13, 2003, Georgia has had Republican Governors. Sonny Perdue won his race against Barnes in 2002 by over 5%. Perdue won again, beating Democrat Mark Taylor in 2006 by 19%. In 2010 the Republican Nathan Deal won by 10% over Democrat Roy Barnes and he won reelection in 2014 over Jason Carter by over 7%. By analyzing those totals, the Republicans started winning early in the 2000’s in Georgia and have won four Governor races in a row coming into the 2018 Governor Election. The margins have gone down since 2006 but nevertheless we have still seen Republicans victorious. The margin in 2018 is the closest since the controversial 1966 Governor Election.

In 2018 on the Republican side, you had Brian Kemp from Athens, Georgia who spent his early life building the Kemp Development and Construction Company. Throughout his career he has been “a successful entrepreneur with businesses and investments in banking, farming, timber, manufacturing, and real estate.” [2] Kemp ran for office in the early 2000’s citing frustration with the government. In 2002 Kemp ran for State Senate in the 46th District. He won 50.7% of the vote to the Democrat Doug Haines 49.3% a 489-vote margin. In the State Senate Kemp “Kemp was instrumental in fighting to cut fees, taxes, and mandates on job creators and Georgia families.”[3] Kemp ran again for the same seat “in 2006 and won 51.6% to 48.4%, a margin of less than 2,000 votes. In 2010 he ran for Georgia Secretary of State in a statewide race and won 56.4% to 39.4%. He was reelected by a similar margin in 2014 57.5% to 42.5%” [4] As Secretary of State he “utilized technology and innovation to cut bureaucratic red tape, slash spending, and streamline government.” [5]

Democrat candidate Stacey Abrams was born in Madison, Wisconsin, but moved to Georgia during her high school years. In high school, she was hired as a typist for a congressional campaign. “Her tweaks to a campaign speech she was typing up were deemed so good she ended up being hired as a speechwriter at 17.” [6] In 1992 she was a student activist that led protests against the treatment of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers. “In a televised debate with Mayor of Atlanta, Maynard Jackson, Abrams told the Mayor he wasn’t doing enough for young people. Though that did not go over well initially, within six months she’d been offered a job with youth services in the mayor’s office.” [7] She attended Yale Law School and worked as a tax attorney; she was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 2006. “She ran unopposed in 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016 and in 2010 she became the minority leader.” [8] “In the role, she has been working on education, economic wellbeing, and expanding access to Medicaid.” [9]

During the Republican Primary on May 22, 2018 for Governor Brian Kemp had to fend off four Republican challengers and the toughest was Casey Cagle, the Lieutenant Governor. “The conservative candidate and necktie-slinging businessman had a strong showing in preliminary polls and has raked in more campaign cash than his opponents.” [10] Cagle said, “I think that Washington should look to Georgia for examples of conservative leadership.” [11] A fight with Delta Airlines drew national attention when they ended a group discount for members of the NRA. Cagle “threatened to steal any prayer of fuel tax cuts for the Atlanta-based airline.” [12] The other main candidate in the race was Brian Kemp who ran on a Georgia first approach. Kemp “unveiled his “Track and Deport” plan to fast-track undocumented immigrants’ removal from the country.” [13] Results of the primary election had Cagle getting 39% to Kemp’s 25.5%, an 81,000-vote margin. [14] No candidates received more than 50% of the vote. The election went to a runoff, set for July 24, 2018. Before the vote, two prominent endorsements were made. “Arguably the most popular figure in Georgia politics Governor Nathan Deal endorsed Cagle and President Donald Trump endorsed Kemp.” [15] When the final votes were counted, “it was a decisive victory for Kemp, and he won 69.55 of the votes to Cagle’s 30.5%. Kemp won by over 220,000 votes and advanced to the General Election.” [16]

In the Democrat primary Stacey Abrams was up against Stacey Evans. Abrams’ New Georgia Project made it her mission to urge unregistered people, mostly minorities, to sign up and vote. Abrams, trying to be the first black Governor in the history of the nation campaigned on walking back campus carry and expanding Medicare. Besides getting a lot of state office holder support, Abrams picked up endorsements from Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Oprah Winfrey. Her opponent Evans, also a lawyer, wanted to “see wages rise for Georgia’s workforce. “I want to get as close to $15 as we can,” talking about the state’s “embarrassing” minimum wage of $5.15 per hour. [17] “When the final votes were tallied on May 22, 2018 Abrams received 76.4% of the vote Evans 23.6% a 290,000-vote difference.” [18]

In the General Election, “the Republican Governors Association began a TV ad campaign attacking Abrams as radical. Meanwhile, the Democratic Governors Association on Monday gave $250,000 to the Georgia Democratic Party to boost Abrams. A recent WXIA-TV/Survey USA poll testing a matchup between Kemp and Abrams, conducted in mid-July before Kemp won the nomination, found a close race, with Kemp getting 46 percent to Abrams’ 44 percent.” [19] Kemp did not give up his position as Secretary of State while he was running for Governor. This is important because the Secretary of State oversees the election. Even when calls came for Kemp to give up his post, he hit the campaign trail with President Donald Trump. Abrams hit the campaign trail with one of the most famous politicians in Georgia history, former President Jimmy Carter. Both campaigns had their strategies. Kemp’s goal was to run up the vote in the rural and suburban counties and Abrams’ goal was to run up the vote in the cities and counties around them.

Election day took place November 6, 2018. The pollsters had the race as a tossup and the ones that did not had it one point in either direction. “The final results of the election showed Kemp received 50.2% of the vote to Abrams 48.8% of the vote. Kemp had a 55,000-vote lead and Abrams needed another 18,000 votes to force Kemp below 50% for a runoff election.” [20] Looking at “exit polls for the race Kemp won men 52% to 46% and Abrams won women 51% to 49%. Kemp won 74% of the white vote and Abrams won 93% of the black vote. Another interesting thing is CNN estimates the party breakdown of the race had 38% Republicans, 33% Democrats and 28% Independents. To break down those numbers Kemp won 2% of Democrats, 97% of Republicans and 44% of Independents. On the other hand, Abrams won 97% of Democrats, 3% of Republicans and 54% of Independents.” [21] A few days later not all the votes counted, Kemp declared victory and resigned as Secretary of State. As the state’s top election official Kemp caused controversy by staying in the post throughout the vote counting. Concerns were brought up about Kemp using his office to suppress votes and “the Georgia Democratic party called Kemp’s “self-coronation” a “legally meaningless political stunt.” [22]

Next, a contentious political battle took place. “A lawsuit filed in Georgia court by voters in federal court in Atlanta accused Kemp of using the official powers of his office to interfere in the election to benefit himself and his political party and disadvantage his opponents.” [23] The lawsuit was filed by Fair Fight Action, founded by Stacy Abrams. Its goal was to advocate changing voter registration laws to promote more people to vote and no suppression of votes. “The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court, cited issues from sweeping purges of the voter rolls to shuttered precincts, voting equipment failures and late absentee ballots. It also cited many voters who say they were turned away from the polls. “An estimated 53,000 registrations were put in limbo under the state’s “exact match” law, many of them African American. More than 85,000 voters were purged in the months leading up to the 2018 election. [24]

“Abrams campaign manager approved a 250,000 TV ad buy as it prepared for all possibilities.” [25] While Abrams waited for the final votes to come in, her campaign put forth a lawsuit. Kemp declared victory and worked on a transition team. The Kemp campaign put out a statement that said, “Abrams’ refusal to concede as just a “desperate ploy” to “steal the election.” [26] With backing from all Democratic committees across the country, the Abrams campaign pressed on. “It said 70 percent of the voters whose registrations were pending over the “exact match” policy before the election were black, although African-Americans account for about one-third of the population.” [27] On November 13, a federal judge “ordered Georgia take steps to ensure provisional ballots aren’t improperly rejected and to wait until Friday to certify the results of the midterm elections that include an unsettled race for governor. They also opened a hotline where voters can check if their ballot was counted.

On November 16, Abrams decided to acknowledge that Brian Kemp won. She thought about taking this further but instead decided to do three things. One, she did not concede “So let’s be clear — this is not a speech of concession, because concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true or proper,” she said. “As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede that. But my assessment is the law currently allows no further viable remedy.” [28] Two, she “announced plans for a major federal lawsuit against the state of Georgia for the gross mismanagement of the election and to protect future elections from unconstitutional actions.” [29] Lastly, and most importantly she launched Fair Fight. If you want to know how successful Fair Fight is. Look at the 2020 Presidential Election, Democrat Joe Biden won the state.

Notes

[1] Skelley, Geoffrey. “SABATO’S CRYSTAL BALL.” Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Accessed November5,2020. https://centerforpolitics.org/crystalball/articles/keep-on-keepin-on-2018-incumbent-renomination-rates/.

[2] “About Governor Brian P. Kemp.” Governor Brian P. Kemp Office of the Governor. Accessed November 1, 2020. https://gov.georgia.gov/about-us/about-governor-brian-p-kemp.

[3] “Brian Kemp.” Ballotpedia. Accessed November 7, 2020. https://ballotpedia.org/Brian_Kemp.

[4] Brian Kemp.” Ballotpedia. Accessed November 7, 2020. https://ballotpedia.org/Brian_Kemp.

[5] “About Governor Brian P. Kemp.” Governor Brian P. Kemp Office of the Governor. Accessed November 1, 2020. https://gov.georgia.gov/about-us/about-governor-brian-p-kemp.

[6] “Meet the Democrat Who Wants to Be America’s First Black Female Governor.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, May 3, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/may/03/stacey-abrams-governor-georgia-democrat.

[7] “Meet the Democrat Who Wants to Be America’s First Black Female Governor.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, May 3, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/may/03/stacey-abrams-governor-georgia-democrat.

[8] “Stacey Abrams.” Ballotpedia. Accessed November 7, 2020. https://ballotpedia.org/Stacey_Abrams.

[9] “Meet the Democrat Who Wants to Be America’s First Black Female Governor.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, May 3, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/may/03/stacey-abrams-governor-georgia-democrat.

[10] -Sean Keenan, By, Sean Keenan, -, and Myrydd Wells. “Meet the Candidates Running for Georgia Governor in 2018.” Atlanta Magazine, March 12, 2018. https://www.atlantamagazine.com/news-culture-articles/meet-candidates-running-georgia-governor-2018/.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] “Brian Kemp.” Ballotpedia. Accessed November 7, 2020. https://ballotpedia.org/Brian_Kemp

[15] Neuman, Scott. “Trump-Endorsed Brian Kemp Easily Wins GOP Runoff For Georgia Governor.” NPR. NPR, July 25, 2018. https://www.npr.org/2018/07/25/632179601/trump-endorsed-brian-kemp-easily-wins-gop-runoff-for-georgia-governor.

[16] Brian Kemp.” Ballotpedia. Accessed November 7, 2020. https://ballotpedia.org/Brian_Kemp.

[17] Sean Keenan, By, Sean Keenan, -, and Myrydd Wells. “Meet the Candidates Running for Georgia Governor in 2018.” Atlanta Magazine, March 12, 2018. https://www.atlantamagazine.com/news-culture-articles/meet-candidates-running-georgia-governor-2018/.

[18] “Stacey Abrams.” Ballotpedia. Accessed November 7, 2020. https://ballotpedia.org/Stacey_Abrams.

[19] Strauss, Daniel. “Kemp Wins Georgia GOP Gubernatorial Primary.” POLITICO, July 25, 2018. https://www.politico.com/story/2018/07/24/georgia-primary-results-kemp-cagle-740410.

[20] [14] “Brian Kemp.” Ballotpedia. Accessed November 7, 2020. https://ballotpedia.org/Brian_Kemp

[21] “2018 Midterms: EXIT POLLING.” CNN. Cable News Network. Accessed November 7, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/election/2018/exit-polls/georgia.

[22] Pramuk, Jacob. “Georgia’s GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Brian Kemp Resigns as Secretary of State.” CNBC. CNBC, November 8, 2018. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/11/08/brian-kemp-resigns-as-georgia-secretary-of-state-as-he-faces-stacey-abrams.html.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Stein, Letitia. “U.S. Voting Rights Trampled in Georgia Governor’s Race: Lawsuit.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, November 27, 2018. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-georgia/u-s-voting-rights-trampled-in-georgia-governors-race-lawsuit-idUSKCN1NW2B8.

[25] Strauss, Daniel. “Kemp Wins Georgia GOP Gubernatorial Primary.” POLITICO, July 25, 2018. https://www.politico.com/story/2018/07/24/georgia-primary-results-kemp-cagle-740410.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Press, Associated. “Judge Orders Georgia to Protect Provisional Ballots in the Abrams-Kemp Race.” NBCNews.com. NBCUniversal News Group, November 13, 2018.

[28] Krieg, Gregory. “Stacey Abrams Says ‘Democracy Failed’ Georgia as She Ends Bid for Governor.” CNN. Cable News Network, November 17, 2018. https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/16/politics/stacey-abrams-concession/index.html.

[29] Ibid.

Further Reading

ABRAMS, STACEY. OUR TIME IS NOW: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America. S.l.: PICADOR, 2021.

Shah, Khushbu. “’Textbook Voter Suppression’: Georgia’s Bitter Election a Battle Years in the Making.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, November 10, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/nov/10/georgia-election-recount-stacey-abrams-brian-kemp.

Worcester State University Fall 2020