Republican Gov. Brian Kemp won a second term in office Tuesday in a rematch of the 2018 gubernatorial race.

With 96.86% of the vote counted as of 3:07 a.m. Wed., Nov. 9, Kemp was leading Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams, 53.5% to 45.79%, according to unofficial results, well above the 50%-plus-one margin needed to avoid a runoff next month. Libertarian Shane Hazel was running a distant third with just 0.7% of the vote.

“I appreciate the strong grassroots supporters we have had, literally from Claxton to Calhoun,” Kemp told a cheering crowd at the Coca-Cola Roxy across from Truist Park. “We would not be here without you. Thank you so much.”

Throughout the campaign, Kemp stressed his record of leading Georgia’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. He credited the rebound to his decision to reopen businesses shut down by the virus sooner than governors in other states.

Kemp also touted his record on crime, including the creation of a multi-agency Crime Suppression Unit last year in the wake of a crime wave spawned by the pandemic and, more recently, the formation of a Gang Prosecution Unit in the attorney general’s office to target criminal street gangs.

On the campaign trail, Kemp reminded voters he was the driving force behind the 2019 “heartbeat” bill banning abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. But he stopped short of calling for even tighter restrictions on abortion favored by some Republicans.

Kemp pledged to double down on his tax-cutting agenda if he won a second term as governor by asking lawmakers to approve $2 billion in income and property tax rebates on top of the $1.6 billion tax rebate Georgians received this year.

Abrams told her supporters at rallies across the state that most of the benefits of Kemp’s tax cuts were going to upper-income Georgians, while the governor was missing an opportunity to help low- and middle-income families. She called for spending Georgia’s bulging $6.6 billion surplus instead on education, housing, and health care.

Abrams criticized Kemp for refusing to expand Georgia’s Medicaid program, a failure that was leaving 500,000 Georgians without affordable health insurance coverage and forcing hospitals across the state to close for lack of operating funds.

She also blamed the increase in violent crime on guns and accused Kemp of worsening the problem by backing legislation the General Assembly passed this year allowing Georgians to carry concealed firearms without a permit.

Kemp and Abrams also tussled over an election-reform law Abrams blasted as a voter suppression measure concocted by Republicans last year following Democratic wins in Georgia in 2020 and at the beginning of 2021. The governor characterized it as an election integrity measure aimed at making it harder to commit voter fraud.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Dave Williams is the Bureau Chief of Capitol Beat News Service.