PEARSON, Ga. — Gov. Brian Kemp rolled into friendly territory, stopping his campaign bus in towns along the southern quadrant of Georgia to talk to farmers and factory workers about the upcoming election and the issues that concerned them.
While Republicans dominate the state’s rural electorate and favor Mr. Kemp, turnout will be key to winning the governor’s race. His swing through Southern Georgia this week was aimed at urging supporters to get themselves, their neighbors, co-workers and fellow worshippers to the polls beginning with early voting next week, or risk living in a state under the control of Stacey Abrams.
Mr. Kemp defeated Ms. Abrams, a Democrat, in his first bid for governor in 2018 by only 55,000 votes.
“I don’t think there are many undecided people left,” Mr. Kemp told a crowd gathered at Roberts Milling Company, a seed and livestock feed dealer. “And if you are not one of them, I would go vote as soon as you can. That will help us narrow the field and the amount of people we need to get to the polls to win this race.”
Mr. Kemp has been leading Ms. Abrams in recent polling and was 10 points ahead in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Georgia News Collaborative survey released Oct. 11. But another poll of likely voters, conducted by Quinnipiac University and released on Oct. 12, showed the race a statistical tie, with Mr. Kemp up by just 1 point.
The disparity between the two surveys underscores the uncertainty Republicans face in the once reliably red Peach State, where newcomers have turned Atlanta and its heavily populated suburbs blue.
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Mr. Kemp told the Washington Times in an interview that he doesn’t trust any of the polling. He’s traveling the state selling voters on the achievements of his first term, which include tightening election laws, ending COVID-19 lockdowns and school closures, supporting law enforcement with $100 million in new funding, and signing laws to help small businesses and improving the state’s economy.
“It’s a record to win with, and that’s what we are going to do,” Mr. Kemp told The Times.
His first-term accomplishments have helped him survive the wrath of former President Donald Trump, who sought Mr. Kemp’s defeat in the GOP primary as payback for the governor’s refusal to help overturn President Biden’s win in Georgia in the 2020 election.
Mr. Kemp trounced former Sen. David Perdue, who was endorsed by Mr. Trump, winning the primary with 74% of the vote.
On Wednesday, Mr. Kemp traveled to a place in southern Georgia he called “the heart of Trump territory.”
Supporters in Trump T-shirts came out to cheer on Mr. Kemp and all but dismissed Mr. Trump’s criticisms of the governor or his endorsement of Mr. Perdue in the primary.
“Donald was distraught, like we were,” Pam Spiwak, who turned out for Mr. Kemp at the feed mill, said to explain the rift.
Mrs. Spiwak and her husband shook hands with Mr. Kemp and told him they remain concerned about election fraud after the contested presidential election.
“That’s why we passed the Election Integrity Act two years ago,” Mr. Kemp told the couple. “Have you volunteered to watch the polls? You should.”
Mr. Kemp has skillfully navigated around Mr. Trump’s antagonism over his handling of the 2020 election results. He avoids criticizing the former president and said he wins over Trump voters by promoting his accomplishments, such as a $30 million expansion of broadband service, much of it in the southern part of the state, and investments that have helped create jobs.
“People know what my record is,” Mr. Kemp said. “And quite honestly, a lot of them are like, ‘We loved President Trump, we loved his policies, but you’ve been a great governor, and we love you, too.’”
Mr. Kemp declined to comment on the toss-up Georgia Senate race or Republican candidate Herschel Walker, who is running as a pro-life candidate but has been the subject of reports claiming he paid a former girlfriend to have an abortion. One of Mr. Walker’s children has also criticized Mr. Walker on social media as an absentee father.
“I think that race is completely baked in, right now,” Mr. Kemp said. “You know, what we’re trying to do is we’re stumping like there’s no tomorrow — for the whole ticket.”
Mr. Kemp blamed a lack of organization for the party’s dual losses in the January 2021 special election that flipped both Senate seats to the Democrats and gave Democrats control of the chamber. Mr. Walker is running to defeat one of the victors, Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock, who is seeking a full six-year term.
“Our problem is we have not had a ground game like we needed to,” Mr. Kemp said. “So we’ve been working ever since the 2020 election to raise money and build our own ground game that’s going to help the whole ticket. And that’s what I’m focused on.”
Ms. Abrams is outraising Mr. Kemp, bringing in $36 million in the third-quarter fundraising period, compared to Mr. Kemp’s $29 million.
She is running on a much different platform, promising to expand Medicaid, tighten gun laws, increase affordable housing and rewrite criminal justice laws to keep youth out of jail and reduce penalties for some offenses.
“She wants to take this state in a completely different direction,” Mr. Kemp said.