Fierce cam­paign­ing on clos­ing day of gover­nor's race

Rome News-Tribune - - POLICE - By Russ Bynum Ben Nadler and Bill Bar­row

SA­VAN­NAH — The bat­tle for Ge­or­gia gover­nor in­ten­si­fied in its fi­nal hours Mon­day as Demo­crat Stacey Abrams and Repub­li­can Brian Kemp framed it as a stark choice for this grow­ing and di­ver­si­fy­ing state, and pre­pared for an­other month of cam­paign­ing if no one wins a ma­jor­ity to­day.

At her first cam­paign stop in Sa­van­nah, Abrams slammed Kemp as a "bald­faced liar" who abused his pow­ers as the sit­ting sec­re­tary of state when he sug­gested over the week­end, with­out of­fer­ing ev­i­dence, that the Ge­or­gia Demo­cratic Party tam­pered with the state's on­line voter database.

Kemp also made a last-day cam­paign stop at a pri­vate air­port ter­mi­nal in Sa­van­nah, where he in­sisted there was rea­son to sus­pect a hack­ing at­tempt, but de­clined to give de­tails.

"I'm not go­ing to get into the specifics of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion," Kemp told re­porters. "But I can tell you I would not be call­ing Home­land Se­cu­rity, the FBI and the GBI un­less we had in­for­ma­tion that we needed them to look at."

Ear­lier in the day, Kemp told sup­port­ers at a sub­ur­ban At­lanta air­plane hangar, "I've never seen a time where the state of Ge­or­gia had more at stake than we do in this con­test."

Al­ready a his­toric matchup, with Abrams try­ing to be­come the first black woman elected gover­nor in U.S. his­tory, it has mor­phed in re­cent weeks from a bat­tle of clear ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences into a racially charged ar­gu­ment over bal­lot ac­cess and voter fraud. A last-minute fra­cas about Ge­or­gia's vot­ing sys­tem raised the specter of a dis­puted re­sult.

Both can­di­dates are seek­ing to cob­ble to­gether enough votes to win out­right on Tues­day. If nei­ther Kemp nor Abrams wins a ma­jor­ity — a dis­tinct pos­si­bil­ity with a Lib­er­tar­ian can­di­date on the bal­lot — there could be an­other month of cam­paign­ing.

More than 2 mil­lion Ge­or­gians have cast early bal­lots. That's about 80 per­cent of the to­tal votes cast four years ago. There are al­most 7 mil­lion reg­is­tered vot­ers in the state.

Kemp, a 54-year-old busi­ness­man who has been sec­re­tary of state since 2010, has em­braced Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump as he tries to ex­tend GOP dom­i­nance in a state that hasn't elected a Demo­crat to its top job since 1998. Trump vis­ited Ge­or­gia on Sun­day for a rally in cen­tral Ge­or­gia.

Abrams, a 44-year-old Yale Law grad­u­ate and for­mer state leg­isla­tive leader, has run as an un­apolo­getic lib­eral as she looks to es­tab­lish Ge­or­gia as a le­git­i­mate twoparty bat­tle­ground ahead of the 2020 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. She touts her work with Repub­li­can state law­mak­ers but pledges to ex­pand Med­ic­aid in­sur­ance and pri­or­i­tize pub­lic fund­ing of ed­u­ca­tion.

She also backs tighter gun re­stric­tions and sup­ports re­mov­ing Con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ments from state prop­erty. Abrams cruised to the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion af­ter en­coun­ter­ing ini­tial re­sis­tance from old­guard Ge­or­gia Democrats who backed her op­po­nent.

Since then, she's been a fundrais­ing jug­ger­naut, rais­ing mil­lions from be­yond Ge­or­gia, and she's drawn a pa­rade of no­table sup­port­ers, most re­cently for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and me­dia icon Oprah Win­frey.

Abrams and vot­ing rights ad­vo­cates have ac­cused Kemp of us­ing his of­fice to make it harder for cer­tain vot­ers, par­tic­u­larly mi­nori­ties, to vote. Kemp coun­ters that Abrams and af­fil­i­ated groups are try­ing to help peo­ple, in­clud­ing nonci­t­i­zens, vote il­le­gally.

Those ten­sions ex­ploded in the home stretch af­ter a pri­vate cit­i­zen raised con­cerns that the voter database Kemp is re­spon­si­ble for as sec­re­tary of state is hack­able, mean­ing a bad ac­tor could po­ten­tially al­ter or delete a voter's in­for­ma­tion in the files used to check-in vot­ers at polling places.

The cit­i­zen made his find­ings avail­able late last week to the state Demo­cratic Party and to an at­tor­ney who flagged the con­cern to the FBI and to Kemp's of­fice. Be­fore any of that be­came pub­lic, Kemp's state of­fice de­clared Sun­day that it was in­ves­ti­gat­ing Ge­or­gia Democrats.

Kemp ac­knowl­edged to re­porters Mon­day "a po­ten­tial vul­ner­a­bil­ity that we found out about" but in­sisted the state's elec­tion sys­tems are se­cure. When pressed about the op­tics of us­ing his of­fice to in­ves­ti­gate his op­po­si­tion days be­fore an elec­tion, Kemp said he "wasn't wor­ried about how it looks," adding "this is how we would han­dle any in­ves­ti­ga­tion."

For her part, Abrams al­luded to years of court fights with Kemp over voter reg­is­tra­tion rules. Demo- crats also have blasted Kemp over 53,000 voter reg­is­tra­tions that his of­fice flagged as pend­ing ahead of Tues­day's elec­tion. Those vot­ers will be able to vote, he says, as long as they show proper iden­ti­fi­ca­tion like ev­ery other voter. Kemp says he's fol­low­ing fed­eral and state elec­tion law.

"I've got an op­po­nent who not only is an ar­chi­tect of voter sup­pres­sion, but he's a bald-faced liar," Abrams told more than 200 peo­ple at a union hall for long­shore­men who work at Sa­van­nah's port. "I don't use that term lightly . ... But when he was told on Fri­day that he had once again failed in his job, in­stead of fix­ing the prob­lem he blamed the Demo­cratic Party of Ge­or­gia. He made up a story like a 6-year-old try­ing to cover his tracks."

Abrams ac­knowl­edges the his­toric na­ture of her can­di­dacy. But, she said she doesn't want that to drive the out­come.

"I don't want any­one to vote for me be­cause I'm black," she said. "And no one on the bal­lot needs a vote be­cause we're women. And I don't even want you to vote for us just be­cause we're Democrats. You need to vote for us be­cause we're bet­ter."

/ AP-John Bazemore, Stephen B. Mor­ton

Top: Brian Kemp speaks to vol­un­teers as Sen. Johnny Isak­son (R-Ga), left, and Sen David Per­due (R-Ga) look on dur­ing a stop on Mon­day. Above: Stacey Abrams speaks to sup­port­ers at a rally in Rin­con, Ga., on Mon­day.

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