GOP gov. candidate Kemp resigns as Georgia secretary of state

By Bill Barrow and

Kate Brumback

The Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — Republican Brian Kemp resigned Thursday as Georgia’s secretary of state, a day after his campaign said he’s captured enough votes to become governor despite his rival’s refusal to concede.

As the state’s top election official, Kemp oversaw the race, a marquee contest in the nation’s midterms. His resignation Thursday morning came as a hearing began for a lawsuit in which five voters asked that he be barred from exercising his duties in any future management of his own election tally. Democratic rival Stacey Abrams’ campaign had repeatedly accused Kemp of improperly using his post as secretary of state.

Kemp’s resignation takes effect just before noon Thursday. Kemp said an interim secretary of state has been appointed to oversee the rest of the vote count.

Abrams has pointed to ballots that have yet to be counted and says there’s still the possibility of a December runoff. Her campaign has said she must pick up about 15,000 votes to do so.

Kemp said Abrams is using “old math.” Without providing specifics, he said in a WSB Radio interview that the number “is actually more like 30,000 votes.”

The Associated Press has not called the election.

At a news conference with Republican Gov. Nathan Deal late Thursday morning, Kemp declared that there are only about 20,000 provisional ballots that have not yet been counted in the race. He did not offer any details, but in response to a question said he would ask about releasing county-by-county results.

Of Abrams, he said, “Even if she got 100 percent of those votes, we still win.”

In fact, Kemp’s office did release to the AP a county-level breakdown about the same time he started speaking in Deal’s office Thursday. The office had not immediately shared that requested information the day before, however, even as Kemp’s campaign cited the statewide estimate as his justification for declaring victory.

The standoff continued to attract attention around the country, with the head of the Democratic National Committee applauding Abrams for pressing on and blasting Kemp as untrustworthy.

“It is grossly unfair to any fox in America to compare Brian Kemp with a fox guarding the hen house. It is much worse in Georgia,” DNC Chairman Tom Perez said in Washington. “I don’t think that race is over. Every vote must be counted, and the integrity of that election is at stake.”

Late Wednesday afternoon — after a day of the campaigns, news outlets and partisan observers scrambling for information about outstanding votes across Georgia’s 159 counties — Kemp aide Ryan Mahoney told reporters on a conference call, “We are declaring victory.” Campaign official Austin Chambers added: “The message here is pretty simple: This election is over, and the results are clear.”

Abrams’ campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo retorted a few hours later that the Kemp campaign offered “no proof” other than nonspecific provisional ballot counts released by Kemp’s official state office.

“He’s offered … no indication of why we should take him at his word,” Groh-Wargo said. “The sitting secretary of state has declared himself” the winner.

The standoff leaves open the possibility of litigation as Abrams’ campaign has pushed for the continued counting of absentee, mail-in and provisional ballots, and renewed its concerns that Kemp was the chief elections officer supervising his own election, a race already marked by disputes over the voting process.

If a runoff is necessary, it will take place Dec. 4, extending Abrams’ bid to become the first black woman elected governor in American history.