Kemp’s Victory Speech in Georgia, Annotated
Posted July 25, 2018 8:34 a.m. EDT
After winning the Republican runoff for governor of Georgia on Tuesday — a blistering campaign that included his threat to “round up criminal illegals” in his pickup truck — Brian Kemp used his victory night speech to heap scorn on Stacey Abrams, his Democratic opponent, frequently lopping her in with female leaders like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi.
Below is an annotation of his speech by Jonathan Martin, a national political correspondent at The New York Times, and Alan Blinder, a Times national reporter based in Atlanta. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
— Kemp Declares Himself ‘Kemp Strong’ …
“I was going to ask y’all how it’s going out there, Athens!
“Are we ready to ring the victory bell tonight? Let me thank y’all so much for a great turnout, and what a great night that we’ve had. I want to thank you. We have earned a clear, convincing victory, and we have you to thank for that. I’m very grateful.”
Kemp won almost all of Georgia’s 159 counties, including the home county of his rival, Casey Cagle. Kemp did not mark his victory in Atlanta, where many statewide politicians celebrate, and which is Abrams’ political base. Instead he chose his hometown, Athens.
“I also want you to know how excited that we are to be moving on to November!
“I wanted to thank Marty and the girls for their hard work, for their commitment and obviously for the love that they’ve shown to this family and this state over the last 15 months.
“Those miles that we have traveled for 15 months have brought us closer. The attacks have made us stronger. Vice President Pence said it best: We are Kemp strong.”
With a visit to Macon on Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence shared the White House bully pulpit with Kemp, giving him an even greater surge of attention in the waning days of the campaign.
“I want these girls to know that I am forever grateful. I want y’all to quit crying, too. We’re just celebrating.
“Listen, I also want to thank our grass-roots volunteers. You people, you people, you know who you are. We appreciate you; we’ve worked so hard. I also want to thank our donors, our interns and our hardworking staff. Thanks to all these hardworking Georgians, we have connected with Georgia voters and we have shared our conservative, four-point plan with folks in literally every county of this state. We kept chopping and tonight’s victory reflects on that unwavering commitment that all of you have had that has secured this victory tonight and I’m grateful. Thank you very much.”
Kemp will need to improve his fundraising for the general election. He lagged behind Cagle throughout this year and Abrams has proved formidable, pulling in more than $6 million so far.
“I also want to take just a moment and thank those local and state elected officials that are in attendance tonight. They’re from all over the state and, ladies and gentlemen, these folks believed in me when no one else did. They put their reputation on the line for us. They put their political futures on the line for us for what many considered a long-shot candidate and I will never forget. I will never forget that.”
Kemp was hardly the favorite of Georgia’s political establishment: Cagle spent years laying the groundwork for a campaign and earned the endorsement of Gov. Nathan Deal.
— … But He Got Big Assists, Including a Secret Recording
“It’s packed in here, as you can see, so it’s hard to tell who’s here and who’s not.
“But speaking of endorsements, I also want to thank Sen. Michael Williams, former candidate for governor; Navy SEAL and businessman Clay Tippins; and state Sen. and Army Ranger Hunter Hill. I’m grateful that they joined Team Kemp after the May 22 primary. These men are great leaders, they’re great husbands and they’re great public servants, and I was honored to gain their support.”
While President Donald Trump’s surprise endorsement of Kemp last week was the game-changer in this race, a close second was a secret recording that Clay Tippins, a candidate in the first round of the primary, made of Cagle, in which he said the election had become about “who had the biggest gun, who had the biggest truck and who could be the craziest.” Kemp grew in popularity after that recording was made public.
“But we cannot forget that tweet that we heard around Georgia. I want to give a big thanks to President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. I want to thank President Donald Trump and Vice President Pence for standing with us in these final days and standing with me.”
Trump’s tweet galvanized support for Kemp and stunned many Republicans in Georgia and beyond. Some in the party worry that by elevating Kemp, Trump helped advance a weaker candidate for the general election.
“As you know, we had the momentum in this race and those endorsements by the president and the vice president, they poured gasoline on the fire and fueled the Kemp surge to victory.”
Kemp did not always have momentum — he wheezed into the runoff with a second-place finish in the May primary.
— Kemp Invokes Clinton, Soros and Pelosi …
“And tonight, we celebrate, folks. There’s no doubt about it, and it’s been well-earned for many of you and I’m grateful. But this campaign is far from over. It’s not the end. It’s only the beginning.
“Hillary Clinton, George Soros and Nancy Pelosi all have Georgia on their mind. For months, they’ve been campaigning with Stacey Abrams: the out-of-touch radical liberal who cares more for her billionaire backers than for you all, you hardworking Georgians.”
The governor’s race will be aggressively fought and exceptionally expensive in Georgia, a state that Trump narrowly carried in 2016. Georgia last elected a Democratic governor in 1998. Kemp and Abrams, a former Democratic leader in the Georgia House who is running as a progressive, have tangled in the past over voting rights and other issues.
“George Soros has already chipped in a million dollars.”
Soros, the Hungarian-born New York billionaire, recently gave $1 million to the Georgia Democratic Party. Kemp hopes to turn him into a left-leaning version of the Koch brothers by the end of this campaign, a strategy aimed at suggesting Abrams is beholden to out-of-state progressive financiers.
“Hillary is already on the campaign trail, and Stacey’s money is coming from California, New York and Massachusetts — not Georgia.”
Kemp is trying to turn a positive — Abrams’s robust fundraising — into a liability with those Southern voters uneasy with such blue-state financing.
— … And He Argues that Socialists are Backing Abrams, Too
“These liberal special interests, even socialists, are getting behind Stacey Abrams, and they’re willing to spend whatever it takes to get her across the finish line.
“The fake-news media machine will do everything in their power to prop her up. Their attacks on me will be vicious, baseless and constant — you can count on it.”
Yes, it is a Trumpian touch that will play well with the conservative base. But in sports terms, Kemp is also working the referees a bit, hoping to extract better coverage by suggesting the press is in Abrams’ corner.
“But that’s what this election is all about, folks. This election is going to be for the soul of our state. It’s going to be about our values and it is going to be literally a fight for the future of the great state of Georgia.
“Make no mistake: There is a crystal-clear contrast as we march toward November. Stacey Abrams wants to grow state government — I want to grow your paycheck.”
Now, this is a much more conventional, PG-rated attack from a Republican candidate for governor on his Democratic rival.
— Kemp Hits Abrams for Owing $54,000 to the IRS …
“Stacey Abrams wants to raise your tax rates, even though she doesn’t pay her own.”
OK, back to the higher-test stuff. Kemp’s swipe refers to the financial disclosure Abrams released earlier this year in which it was revealed that she owes $54,000 to the IRS and is on a payment plan to fulfill her obligation.
“On the other hand, I want to lower tax rates for hardworking Georgians like you all. She is a career politician and a liberal activist who wants to double down on big government education programs that fail to deliver. I am a proud father of three teenage daughters and I want to put students ahead of the status quo.
“So here’s the question: Do you really want a governor who’s bought and paid for by liberal billionaires and out-of-state socialists? Do you want a governor who is going to answer to Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton? Do you want a governor who thinks that government is the answer to every challenge that we face?
“Of course you don’t. I figured that out, of course not. This is the state of Georgia: We are a red state.”
Kemp sums up the question looming over this campaign. Will this fast-growing, increasingly diverse but still very Southern state really move from the Republican column? Consider the implications for the presidential map if it does.
— … Then He Veers Back to Clinton and ‘Her Pal’ Abrams
“And for that matter, we don’t need the radical left telling us how to live, worship or raise our family. We rejected Hillary Clinton in 2016 and in November we’re going to do the same thing with her pal Stacey Abrams.”
Yes, Kemp very much wants to nationalize this race. But what is striking is who he is not including in his roster of liberal boogeymen: former President Barack Obama. Obama is simply not as polarizing as he was just a few years ago and not nearly as much as Clinton.
“But ladies and gentleman, we cannot do it alone. To my friend Casey Cagle: thank you for your service to our great state. For 15 months we have duked it out in the ring, there is no doubt about that. It was a hard-fought race. But I want to humbly ask for you and your supporters to join us in this fight. Because they know, just like we know, this a fight against Stacey Abrams and the radical left and her radical backers.”
Now Kemp is attempting to heal the intraparty wounds — and to ensure that Cagle’s voters and, more to the point, his donors stay in the Republican fold.
“To those of you who were here with us in the beginning and for those of you that joined Team Kemp along the way: I ask for you to dig deep. We’ve got to hunker down, folks. And as we’ve been saying lately, we’ve got to keep chopping wood.”
Kemp, an alumnus of the University of Georgia, could not resist references to Bulldogs football. “Hunker down” stems from a 1982 call by the team’s legendary broadcaster, Larry Munson, and “keep chopping wood” — a way of urging people to keep focus — was the motto for last year’s team, which nearly won a national championship.
— Kemp Knows He’ll Be Attacked As an Extremist. Will He Pivot?
“The road ahead is going to be long. In fact, the attacks on me and our values I believe will begin tonight.”
He’s right: State and national Democrats wasted little time in criticizing Kemp as an extremist who would imperil Georgia’s business-friendly climate.
“We will have good weeks and we’re going to have bad ones, too. But let me tell you the truth: We will not be outworked, we won’t give up and we will not lose stake of what’s in sight for our state.
“I’m Brian Kemp. As you all know, I’m a tell-it-like-it-is conservative who is ready to take on Stacey Abrams and the radical left.”
Kemp is already shifting toward the middle. Well, at least mildly. In the primary, he dubbed himself “a politically incorrect conservative.” Now he is presenting a more, well, politically correct version of his mantra.
“And as I leave you tonight, I want to ask you and those that are watching and those that have been in the fight — no matter what camp you were in — join us, join us and let’s continue to put hardworking Georgians first.”
Like we said, it was a bitter primary.