National News

Abrams ends run for governor against Kemp, but won't concede

Posted November 16, 2018 6:20 p.m. EST

ATLANTA -- Stacey Abrams ended her run for Georgia governor on Friday, but the Democrat said she would not concede the contest to Republican Brian Kemp as state officials prepared to certify the election.

Saying the law "allows no further viable remedy" to extend her quest to be the nation's first black female governor, Abrams announced a new voting rights group that will file "major" litigation against the state over electoral issues.

And she laced her speech with bruising critiques of Kemp, a former secretary of state who she said was "deliberate and intentional in his actions" to suppress the vote.

"I will not concede," she added, "because the erosion of our democracy is not right."

Kemp, meanwhile, thanked Abrams for her "passion, hard word and commitment to public service."

"The election is over and hardworking Georgians are ready to move forward," said Kemp. "We can no longer dwell on the divisive politics of the past but must focus on Georgia's bright and promising future."

The Democrat's campaign was considering a long-shot legal challenge under a law that allows losing candidates to contest the election in the case of misconduct, fraud or "irregularities."

She would have faced a tremendous legal burden to prove her case, and even some Democrats warned that prolonging the court battle would jeopardize two down-ticket runoffs set for next month.

The secretary of state could certify the election soon and cement Kemp's victory in the tightest race for Georgia governor since 1966.

The latest tally showed Abrams is roughly 55,000 votes behind Kemp -- and in need of more than 17,000 votes to force a Dec. 4 runoff. Georgia law requires a runoff if no candidate gets a majority of the vote, which is only a possibility because a third-party contender netted about 1 percent.

Hundreds of previously uncounted votes could still be added before the election is certified by Secretary of State Robyn Crittenden.

Abrams' campaign has long tried to make the case that Kemp used his role as secretary of state to suppress the vote.

In her fiery speech, Abrams cited long lines at voting sites, closed polling stations and the cancellation of hundreds of thousands of voter registrations.

But to have a chance in court, Abrams would have had to prove there were enough Georgians blocked from voting to close the gap. Her campaign apparently could not meet that requirement.

Before Abrams ended the campaign, Republicans blasted the suggestion that she might contest the election in court. In one of the most biting barbs, Kemp's spokesman called for Abrams to end her "ridiculous temper tantrum and concede."

Unchanged dynamics

Kemp's lead had dwindled since Election Day as absentee and provisional ballots trickled in. But as more counties completed their vote tallies, Abrams and her allies claimed there were thousands of outstanding ballots that never materialized.

Her campaign also went to court to force local officials to accept some previously rejected ballots.

She secured one court order that required elections officials to review as many as 27,000 provisional ballots, though it didn't require those votes to be accepted.

Another ruling required the state to count absentee ballots with incorrect birthdate data, but rejected an effort to accept provisional ballots cast in the wrong counties.

That order, by U.S. District Judge Steve Jones, set off a scramble by county officials to revisit rejected ballots. But it left Kemp's lead virtually unchanged, even as the biggest trove of those votes in Gwinnett County was added to the total.

Those final ballots in Gwinnett also likely cemented the contest for Georgia's 7th Congressiional District. Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall led Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux by about 400 votes, though her campaign on Friday requested a recount.

Some pushback

Abrams has long hinted at more litigation challenging "irregularities" at polling sites, and targeted what she claimed was Kemp's abuse of the secretary of state's office. But she determined that new legal action wouldn't prevent Kemp's victory.

Some Abrams' allies had raised alarms that the prospect of extending her legal fight would shift attention away from a pair of candidates who are already in a runoff: John Barrow for secretary of state and Lindy Miller for Public Service Commission.

"I totally concur with the notion that every vote should be counted," said Michael Thurmond, the DeKalb County chief executive and a former Democratic state labor commissioner. "And going forward, the most effective way to do that is to focus on electing John Barrow as the next secretary of state."

And former U.S. Rep. Buddy Darden said it's "pretty evident" the race will be certified for Kemp and that Abrams should begin focusing on a 2020 run against U.S. Sen. David Perdue.

"Never stop. Keep using this energy," he said. "Keep using these new voters."

Kemp, meanwhile, has tried to cast himself as the eventual winner.

Several of his aides were at the Capitol this week to meet with state legislators and scope out executive offices. And Kemp's campaign has repeatedly criticized Abrams for refusing to concede, saying she has no mathematical chance at forcing a runoff.

On Friday, Kemp struck a far more conciliatory tone.

"I humbly ask for citizens of our great state to stand with me in the days ahead," he said.

"Together, we will realize the opportunities and tackle the challenges to come. We will be a state that puts hardworking Georgians -- no matter their zip code or political preference -- first."

Story Filed By Cox Newspapers

For Use By Clients of the New York Times News Service