ATLANTA (AP) - Republican Brian Kemp’s campaign declared victory Wednesday in the Georgia governor’s race, though Democrat Stacey Abrams insists that enough ballots remain to leave open the possibility of a runoff in a race that Kemp oversees as secretary of state.
The Associated Press has not called the contest.
Ryan Mahoney, a top Kemp campaign adviser, told reporters in a conference call that the numbers show Abrams can’t win and a runoff won’t happen — but stopped short of declaring victory until pressed by an Associated Press reporter. Only then did Mahoney say Kemp is certain of victory and preparing to take office in January.
“We are declaring victory,” Mahoney said. Another campaign official, Austin Chambers, added: “The message here is pretty simple: This election is over, and the results are clear.”
Kemp was not on the call but is expected to speak publicly on Thursday, the same day that a federal judge in Atlanta holds the first hearing on an Election Day lawsuit that seeks to have Kemp barred from having any further role in managing the election.
The Abrams campaign responded late Wednesday that Kemp’s state office had not shared with the public or with the Abrams’ campaign the detailed data behind his claims, instead asking Georgians to take him at his word.
“The sitting secretary of state has declared himself” the winner, said Abrams’ campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo. “We don’t accept or reject what he said. He needs to show proof.”
The stand-off leaves open the possibility of litigation as Abrams’ campaign has spent the day pushing for the continued counting of absentee, mail-in and provisional ballots and renewing its concerns that Kemp remains the chief elections officer supervising his own election, a race already marked by disputes over the voting process.
With reported votes exceeding 3.9 million — almost 95 percent of Georgia’s 2016 presidential turnout — Kemp has just more than 50 percent.
Before the Kemp campaign declared victory Wednesday, Groh-Wargo estimated that about 15,000 votes separate Kemp from a runoff. She says at least that many outstanding absentee and mail-in ballots remained to be counted.
Kemp’s spokeswoman in the secretary of state’s office, Candice Broce, said that by Wednesday afternoon the number of uncounted absentee and mail-in ballots was less than 2,000 — with her boss still above the 50 percent threshold.
Broce said about 22,000 provisional ballots have yet to be processed, according to a canvass of county officials across the state. Mahoney asserted that those numbers make it impossible for Abrams to pick up enough votes to deny Kemp an outright victory.