ATLANTA (AP) — His election still undecided, Republican Brian Kemp is proceeding as a victorious candidate and promising to be a governor for all Georgians. That might not be so easy.
Should his narrow lead hold over Democrat Stacey Abrams and ultimately send him to the governor’s mansion, Kemp would face lingering questions about how and why he oversaw his own election as secretary of state. His victory would be fueled by an even starker than usual urban-rural divide, with Abrams drawing most of her votes in metro Atlanta and smaller cities, and Kemp running up massive margins in rural and small-town Georgia, eclipsing 85 percent in some counties.
Then there’s his embrace of President Donald Trump’s coarse rhetoric, from Kemp warning about “illegal votes” to his promise to “round up criminal illegals” in his own pickup truck.
That all plays into what civil rights leaders and observers from both parties describe as a bitter, race-laden contest that pitted Abrams’ bid to become the nation’s first black woman governor against Kemp’s fierce effort to preserve his overwhelmingly white party’s hold on a growing, diversifying Deep South state.
The after-effects, they say, won’t dissipate automatically.
“In the hypothetical scenario that Brian Kemp becomes governor,” said NAACP activist and former congressional candidate Francys Johnson, “then he and Donald Trump will have both won because they were able to stoke the deepest darkest fears among their base.”
Some Republicans acknowledge the atmosphere even as they defend Kemp from charges he ran a racially and culturally divisive campaign. “Some of this is beyond Brian Kemp’s control,” said Brian Robinson, a former adviser for outgoing Gov. Nathan Deal and for Kemp’s vanquished GOP primary rival. “Brian Kemp cannot extricate himself from the national political environment that now drives every election down to the county level. You run for coroner, you have to say whether you want to ‘make America great again.”