With reported votes approaching 3.8 million, Kemp was just shy of 51 percent, but Abrams and her campaign said there were enough ballots outstanding, particularly absentee and mail-in ballots in heavily Democratic metro Atlanta counties, to bring the Republican below the majority threshold required for victory.
“We believe our chance for a stronger Georgia is just within reach, but we cannot seize it until all voices are heard,” Abrams told excited supporters who remained at a downtown Atlanta hotel into the early hours of Wednesday. “I promise you tonight we’re going to make sure that every vote is counted,” Abrams added.
As the clock neared 3 a.m., Kemp took his turn on a hotel stage in his hometown of Athens and expressed confidence that a final result — whenever it comes — will go his way.
“There are votes left to count, but we have a very strong lead,” Kemp said. “And folks, make no mistake, the math is on our side to win this election.”
If Kemp and Abrams were to finish below 50 percent, they would meet in a Dec. 4 runoff. Abrams’ campaign estimated early Wednesday morning that there are a minimum of 97,000 ballots to be counted and that she’d need a net gain of 24,379 votes to trigger a runoff.
That would mean four more weeks of bitter, race-laden campaigning in a contest that Kemp and Abrams have each described as a “battle for the soul of our state.”
With most of the rest of nation finishing its midterm campaigns, that would also focus a white-hot spotlight on a race that already has drawn massive investments of time, money and star power — from President Donald Trump and former President Barack Obama to media icon Oprah Winfrey — as Abrams tries to make history as the first black woman to lead a U.S. state and Kemp tries to keep GOP-run Georgia from sliding into presidential battleground status ahead of 2020.
Kemp mentioned Trump’s backing in his remarks early Wednesday, though he was quick to say having his supporters in front of him was more important. “Over the last 21 months, we’ve chopped a lot of wood,” he said.
The prospects of a razor-thin result and potential runoff come after weeks of wrangling over a Georgia election system that Kemp runs in his post as secretary of state, leaving open the possibility that Abrams supporters may not accept a loss.
Abrams has called Kemp “an architect of suppression,” and voting rights activists expressed concerns throughout Tuesday amid widespread reports of technical malfunctions and long lines at polling stations came in from across the state, with some voters reporting waits of up to three hours to cast ballots.
The elections chief wasn’t immune to the difficulties: When Kemp went to cast his ballot, he had an issue with his voter card, but it was fixed quickly. He walked by reporters and said, “Take Two.”
Kemp has steadfastly defended his job performance and refused calls to step aside — the latest coming in an Election Day lawsuit.
Abrams, a 44-year-old Atlanta attorney, former lawmaker and moonlighting romance novelist, already has made history as the first black woman to be nominated for governor by either major party. She’d also be the first woman or nonwhite governor in Georgia history.