Midterms 2018: Why the race for the Georgia governor's office between Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp matters

Former romance novelist Ms Abrams could make history in Southern state but access to vote remains an issue ahead of polling day

Joe Sommerlad
Monday 05 November 2018 10:13 GMT
US Midterms 2018: The five big questions

Georgia is on the brink of history ahead of November's midterm elections.

Democrat Stacey Abrams, 44, is seeking to become the state's first black female governor but faces a tough challenge in the shape of Georgia's secretary of state, Brian Kemp.

Here’s our introduction to one of the defining election races of the autumn.

Who are the candidates?​

The significance of a Stacey Adams victory in a state once at the centre of slavery and segregation cannot be understated.

Achieving it will depend on her winning the votes of liberal residents of Atlanta, the birthplace of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Much of the rest of Georgia remains fiercely Republican.

Actually hailing from Madison, Wisconsin, and raised in Gulfport, Mississippi, Ms Abrams is a Yale law graduate and the author of eight romance novels under the pen name “Selena Montgomery”.

Her opponent is the unabashedly Trumpian Mr Kemp, 55, Georgia’s secretary of state, who has called the contest a battle for “literally the soul of our state”.

A self-styled “politically incorrect conservative”, Mr Kemp has proudly brandished a shotgun in a TV spot for his campaign and boasted of owning “a big truck, just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take ’em home myself”.

His appeal to knee-jerk right-wingers as the antidote to the progressive force represented by Ms Abrams is clear.

If she can inspire the African-American vote, a Democratic victory would echo that pulled off in last year’s special election when scandal-hit Republican Roy Moore was toppled by Doug Jones.

What are the key issues?

Education, immigration, gun control and healthcare are all at the heart of the contest in Georgia, particularly the lack of hospitals and jobs in rural areas.

Stacey Abrams
Stacey Abrams (Getty)

Another cause of particularly pressing concern is voting itself, with the state’s “exact match” law seeing 534,000 registrations scrubbed from the electoral roll since 2016.

According to the Palast Investigative Fund, 340,000 were improperly removed on the mistaken assumption that the person concerned had moved house.

The purging process also means that 53,000 registrations are currently pending with less than two weeks to go before the vote, often as a result of typos or minor grammatical technicalities, 70 per cent of which relate to black voters who might be expected to turn out for Stacey Abrams, according to The New York Times.

Civil rights groups have filed a federal lawsuit over the issue but Mr Kemp – whom Ms Abrams called the “architect of voter suppression” on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah - has insisted the matter is a diversionary tactic on behalf of her supporters to distract from her “extreme” agenda.

“The right to vote is a right. My father was arrested helping people to register,” she has retaliated.

Critics of the Ms Abrams have attacked her over what they characterise as her tax and spend approach to policy, particularly in light of the revelation that she herself owes $50,000 (£38,680) to the Internal Revenue Service and more than $170,000 (£131,500) in debt from credit cards and student loans, incurred supporting her parents after they suffered losses because of Hurricane Katrina and suffered serious illness.

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“I have paid my taxes, unlike Ms Abrams, when they were due,” Mr Kemp jibed in a recent debate in front of the Atlanta Press Club.

President Trump has made his opinions known here too, telling his Twitter followers: “Brian Kemp will be a GREAT Governor of Georgia. Abrams will destroy the State.”

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