Brian Kemp views Stacey Abrams as presidential material — and he’s terrified
Brian Kemp in a Jan. 15, 2022, file photo, is expected to sign into law a measure that would allow Georgians to carry concealed handguns without a permit. - Todd Kirkland/Getty Images North America/TNS

On Tuesday, May 24, Republicans voters in Georgia will decide whether they want incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp or former Sen. David Perdue as their gubernatorial nominee — and the polls haven’t been looking even remotely good for Perdue. Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is unopposed. And Kemp’s comments about Abrams indicate that he not only views her as a formidable opponent in Georgia’s gubernatorial race — he also sees her as a possible presidential candidate at some point in the future.

Unless the polls are way, way off, Georgia’s 2022 gubernatorial race is almost certain to become a rematch between the 48-year-old Abrams and Kemp — who narrowly defeated her when she ran for governor in the 2018 midterms. A Fox News poll released on May 18 found Kemp with a 32% lead over Republican primary challenger Perdue. If Perdue loses that badly to Kemp, it will be a major humiliation for former President Donald Trump — who has endorsed Perdue and slammed Kemp as a RINO: Republican in Name Only.

Perdue, a Trump loyalist, has been campaigning on the Big Lie and falsely claiming that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump through widespread voter fraud — a claim that Kemp rejects. And Perdue’s unending obsession with 2020 obviously isn’t resonating with Republican voters in Georgia, a state that President Joe Biden won fair and square.

At this point, Kemp’s main concern obviously isn’t defeating Perdue in the primary — it’s going up against Abrams in the general election. During a speech on Saturday, May 21, Kemp avoided sounding too cocky about his ability to defeat Perdue. “Don’t believe the polling,” Kemp cautiously told a crowd near Athens, Georgia. But it was his comments about Abrams that were the most revealing.

Kemp told the crowd, “Be excited about the momentum, but use that to encourage you even more to leave no doubt on Tuesday. And then on Wednesday, we will all unite on the mission to make sure that Stacey Abrams is not going to be our governor or our next president.”

Kemp’s “president” comment speaks volumes. Kemp could have stopped with the “make sure that Stacey Abrams is not going to be our governor” part; instead, he indicated that he sees Abrams as becoming a possible Democratic presidential nominee in the future.

Although Abrams lost to Kemp in 2018, that gubernatorial race established her as a major rock star in the Democratic Party. Abrams probably would have enjoyed a double-digit landslide victory had that race taken place in a deep blue state like California, New York or Massachusetts; instead, Abrams went up against Kemp in Georgia, which was deeply Republican in the past and has evolved into a swing state — and she came within striking distance.

Arguably, Abrams’ 2018 campaign helped pave the way for Biden’s victory in Georgia in 2020 as well as the victories of Georgia Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in the U.S. Senate runoffs that followed in early 2021. Abrams demonstrated that a Democrat can be highly competitive in a statewide race in Georgia, and in 2020, the Biden campaign —with a lot of encouragement from Abrams — made the Peach State a high priority.

Biden has said that if his health holds up, he will seek reelection in 2024. And if Biden runs in 2024 —whether he is reelected or voted out of office — a big question for Democratic strategists becomes: who would have the best chance of defeating a Republican in 2028? Kemp obviously sees Abrams as a possibility.

Abrams has her work cut out for her in the months ahead. Between President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings, the worst inflation in more than 40 years and frustration over the COVID-19 pandemic, Democratic strategists fear that 2022 could see a major red wave like 1994 or 2010 — and that frustrated swing voters could be going to the polls with a punish-the-incumbent-party mindset.

Regardless, Kemp obviously isn’t taking Abrams’ 2022 gubernatorial campaign lightly. And if his comments on May 21 are any indication, he not only views Abrams as a gubernatorial candidate, but also, as a strong contender for the Democratic Party’s first post-Biden presidential nominee.