The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Democrat Stacey Abrams accepts defeat in contentious Georgia governor’s race

Stacey Abrams admitted defeat on Nov. 16 in the contentious Georgia governor's race, which she alleged was tainted by voting irregularities. (Video: Reuters)

Democrat Stacey Abrams ended her campaign for governor of Georgia on Friday, lamenting voting irregularities that she said tainted the election but acknowledging that former Georgia secretary of state Brian Kemp would be declared the winner.

Abrams, who had hoped to become the nation’s first elected female African American governor, had worked to force a runoff with Kemp, who as of late Thursday led by 54,801 votes out of 3.9 million cast.

Kemp’s 50.22 percent of the tally put the Republican just above the 50 percent-plus-one-vote threshold required to avoid a runoff election in December.

Abrams said that she planned to start an organization to fight for more equitable voting laws and would soon bring “a major federal lawsuit against the state of Georgia for gross mismanagement of this election.”

“Let’s be clear, this is not a speech of concession,” she said in brief evening remarks at her Atlanta campaign office.

It was, however, the end of a campaign whose outcome had remained uncertain for days as Abrams pressed for the counting of ballots that had been rejected for minor errors. Kemp drew criticism from Democrats for championing a controversial voting law disproportionately affecting black voters and, days before the midterms, launching an investigation into Democrats, alleging a “hacking” attempt into the voter registration system.

Earlier Friday, Abrams, the former Democratic leader of the Georgia House, was considering filing a separate lawsuit contesting the results and demanding a new election. That would have been based on a provision in Georgia law that allows losing candidates to challenge results.

Former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams announced Nov. 16 the launch of a group to promote fairness in elections and file a federal lawsuit against Ga. (Video: Reuters)

But she said Friday evening that she did not want to gain an office if she had to “scheme” to get it, and that she had determined that current law gave her “no further viable remedy.”

Tensions high between Kemp and Abrams teams as Georgia awaits final vote count in governor’s race

“I acknowledge that former secretary of state Brian Kemp will be certified as the victor in the 2018 gubernatorial election,” Abrams said. “But to watch an elected official who claims to represent the people in this state baldly pin his hopes for election on the suppression of the people’s democratic right to vote has been truly appalling.”

She also said she would pray for Kemp’s success and that she asked that he “pledge to fight for the rights of those who disagree with him.”

Kemp, in a statement issued by spokesman Ryan Mahoney, praised Abrams’s “passion, hard work, and commitment to public service.”

“The election is over and hard-working Georgians are ready to move forward. We can no longer dwell on the divisive politics of the past but must focus on Georgia’s bright and promising future,” said Kemp, whose campaign had harshly denounced immigrants and others as he modeled it on President Trump’s 2016 success.

Abrams, 44, and Kemp, 55, have long clashed over voting rights. Four years ago, Abrams founded the New Georgia Project, with a goal of adding hundreds of thousands of people of color to the voting rolls. Abrams is no longer affiliated with the group that she says signed up more than 200,000 potential new voters, but most of them never made it onto the rolls.

Kemp accused the group of voter fraud and launched an investigation that found no wrongdoing. He has pursued restrictive voter registration and identification laws and has purged more than 1 million voters from the rolls in recent years — actions that Abrams and activists say amount to suppression.

Several of those laws have been successfully challenged in court as violations of the federal Voting Rights Act, including rulings that have come down before and since the Nov. 6 election.

Since the election, the Abrams campaign, through court filings and news conferences, had shared stories of individuals who had trouble casting ballots.

Voters told of having waited up to four hours to vote, not receiving absentee ballots that they requested and getting inaccurate information from county elections officials. The lawsuits also have revealed a lack of uniformity in how counties address problems with absentee and provisional ballots. Although some counties try to contact voters to fix mistakes and omissions in their voting documents, others simply reject the ballots.

Kemp’s victory was made possible through a come-from-
behind surge in the Republican primary earlier this year, in which he received the endorsement of Trump and aired several provocative TV ads in which he wielded guns and pledged to round up “criminal illegals” in his pickup truck.

Abrams became a national sensation after winning the primary, and she had received support from former presidents Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter as well as media mogul Oprah Winfrey. She made health care a major focus of her campaign, as did other Democrats around the country in this year’s midterms.

The issue of race loomed large over the campaign in its final weeks, however. A racist and anti-Semitic robo-call targeting Abrams began making the rounds about a week before Election Day. The call was produced by the Road to Power, a white-
supremacist group based in Idaho. Kemp’s campaign also came under criticism for an election-eve tweet attempting to tie Abrams to a radical group, the New Black Panther Party.

The razor-thin margin between Abrams and Kemp is reflective of Georgia’s march from once-solid Republican terrain toward becoming a purple state. Trump won Georgia by five percentage points in 2016, but Democrats’ increasing strength in the suburbs bodes well for their chances in future statewide races.

John Wagner contributed to this report.