Republican Brian Kemp’s campaign declared victory Wednesday after election returns showed he maintained a slim majority over Democrat Stacey Abrams with nearly all precincts reporting.
Abrams, meanwhile, said she wouldn’t concede the race until all ballots are counted, and her campaign started preparing for what could be a lengthy battle in the courtroom and in the media over the outcome of the nationally watched race.
Both the bitter rivals largely retreated from public view after an exhausting Election Day, but their campaign deputies held dueling teleconferences trying to shape the narrative of the tense competition.
Expressing confidence his lead at the ballot box was insurmountable, Kemp moved swiftly to begin the transition to the state’s top office. He set up an event Thursday with Gov. Nathan Deal, the two-term Republican who endorsed him.
“This election is over. The votes have been counted,” said Austin Chambers, a Kemp adviser. “And the results are clear: Brian Kemp is the governor-elect.”
Abrams has urged supporters to prepare for a Dec. 4 runoff, which would be required if neither candidate holds a majority of the vote when the counting ends. The latest vote tally had Kemp nearly 65,000 votes ahead of Abrams — and about 30,000 votes over the 50 percent threshold. In an early-morning memo and a teleconference a few hours later, Abrams’ aides tried to outline a path to avoid a defeat even as they criticized Kemp for remaining in his role as secretary of state while he ran for governor.
Abrams campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo said the Democrat would benefit from thousands of provisional ballots cast by voters who ran into difficulties at polling sites, and the possibility that mail-in votes were delayed by complications related to Hurricane Michael.
“Overall, we feel that the onus is on our campaign to fight for fairness, for a fair election,” Groh-Wargo said. “And we’re up against an unfair system where our own opponent is overseeing his election.”
Later Wednesday evening, Abrams’ campaign called for the state to appoint a “nonpartisan bureaucrat” to oversee the certification of results instead of Kemp.
As some of the final returns trickled in, Kemp’s campaign aggressively made the case to reporters that it’s mathematically impossible for Abrams to force the race into overtime.
Glen Bolger, the Republican’s pollster, said there were about 3,000 absentee ballots still pending and an estimated 22,000 provisional ballots. He also said he was unaware of ballots being delayed due to the hurricane. Even if all those outstanding votes swung to Abrams, Bolger said, Kemp still finishes above 50 percent with room to spare.
“What they do moving forward doesn’t matter,” Chambers said of Abrams. “Because Brian Kemp has secured this victory. At this point, Stacey should do what’s right for Georgia and unite behind Brian. This election is over, and nothing they do is going to change that.”