(CNN) – Democrat Stacey Abrams on Friday acknowledged that Republican Brian Kemp will become the next governor of Georgia, ending her bid to become the first African American woman elected to lead a state.
The announcement followed more than a week of post-election legal maneuvering from her campaign and allies as they sought to find enough votes to reduce Kemp’s lead and force a December 4 runoff.
Abrams was considering further legal challenges as recently as Friday morning, but ultimately made the decision to end her campaign in a fiery speech to supporters at her headquarters in Atlanta. She did, however, announce plans for a “major federal lawsuit against the state of Georgia for the gross mismanagement of this election and to protect future elections from unconstitutional actions.”
Even in acknowledging defeat, Abrams insisted her speech was not giving a concession and instead delivered a series of sharp criticisms of Kemp.
“So let’s be clear — this is not a speech of concession, because concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true or proper,” she said. “As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede that. But, my assessment is the law currently allows no further viable remedy. Now, I can certainly bring a new case to keep this one contest alive, but I don’t want to hold public office if I need to scheme my way into the post. Because the title of governor isn’t nearly as important as our shared title — voters. And that is why we fight on.”
Abrams had previously described Kemp as an “architect of voter suppression” and in her remarks said he had purposefully made the process a “gut-wrenching hardship” for many in Georgia.
“Under the watch of the now former secretary of state, democracy failed Georgia,” Abrams said of Kemp, who served as the state’s chief elections officer for nearly a decade before resigning after overseeing his own contest.
“Make no mistake, the former secretary of state was deliberate and intentional in his actions,” Abrams said. “I know that eight years of systemic disenfranchisement, disinvestment and incompetence had its desired affect on the electoral process in Georgia.”
Abrams also announced she will launch a new voting rights group called “Fair Fight Georgia.”
Earlier in the day, Abrams’ campaign rolled out a digital ad — with nearly $100,000 behind it, according to a spokeswoman — that asks voters to share their stories of trouble at the polls.
In a statement, Kemp said, “Moments ago, Stacey Abrams conceded the race and officially ended her campaign for governor. I appreciate her passion, hard work, and commitment to public service.”
He continued, “The election is over and hardworking Georgians are ready to move forward. We can no longer dwell on the divisive politics of the past but must focus on Georgia’s bright and promising future.”
The Georgia race has stoked a fierce new front in the national battle over voting rights and access to the polls. Kemp, who has promoted and enforced some of the nation’s most restrictive voting laws, was accused repeatedly before and during the campaign of seeking to suppress the minority vote.
His victory will keep the Georgia governor’s mansion in GOP hands for a fifth consecutive term and demoralize Democrats who hoped to put the state on the presidential map in 2020. Abrams would have been Georgia’s and the country’s first female African American governor and the first Democrat to win a statewide race there since 2000.
Victory for her pioneering campaign would have instantly transformed Georgia into a 2020 presidential swing state and signaled the beginnings of a potential political realignment in region, which has been growing more diverse and educated as its economy expanded. Instead, Republicans will point to that same economic success as a sustaining force and question — along with some Democrats — the wisdom of Abrams’ embrace of so many national liberal political stars.
Kemp’s win will also please President Donald Trump, who disparaged Abrams, a former state House minority leader, as “not qualified” before the election and campaigned for the two-term secretary of state.
Polling in the days leading up the race showed a dead-heat between Abrams and Kemp, with libertarian candidate Ted Metz notching just enough support to deny the either of the favorites the majority required by Georgia law to win outright and avoid a December run-off. But Kemp ended up clearing 50%.