Georgia gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp called out the media and his Democratic opponents and defended his record as secretary of state Wednesday night while visiting the UGA College Republicans.
Kemp—joined by newly appointed Judge Regina Quick and Houston Gaines, the former UGA Student Government president looking to fill Quick's vacant state House seat—stopped in his Athens hometown during his statewide campaign tour in an effort to get the college students involved in his "grassroots army."
The secretary of state opened by recalling his time at the University of Georgia, reminiscing over the early-1980s football team fresh off a national championship. He also lauded Quick as the state representative for Athens.
"It's a very diverse and interesting place to represent," said Kemp, who represented Athens in the state Senate from 2004–2006, mentioning how the interests of those in Clarke County are often different from those of surrounding counties.
Kemp, who’s in his second term as secretary of state, explained his background as a businessman and a politician, then lectured the students on the four-point plan that his campaign is centered around: making Georgia the number place for small business, reforming the state government, strengthening rural Georgians and "putting Georgia first" by defunding sanctuary cities and campuses and "protecting our Georgia values."
"We've got to lift everybody up," he said, touting his goal to visit all 159 counties during his campaign. "It's not healthy to just have population centers like Atlanta, Augusta, Savannah and Macon."
Kemp said his campaign is working to fight for rural Americans. The focus has drawn some comparisons to Donald Trump, Kemp said, which he accepts.
"We are literally building a grassroots army," he said. "At the end of the day, you have to have more votes than anyone else. There is no second place in this race, and I didn't enter it to lose."
Kemp responded to various questions regarding his campaign and his stance on issues such as medical cannabis. While Kemp praised legislators for their work to expand the program in Georgia, Kemp defaults back to the federal restriction.
"You're still violating the federal law, [and] they are not open to doing anything at the federal level," he said.
Kemp called out Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams for her suggestion to sandblast the Stone Mountain carving of Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, calling the move unproductive.
"I think it's all political for her to win the Democratic primary, and I hope she does," he joked, insinuating that he would beat her if the two faced off for the office.
Kemp also responded to controversies during his time as secretary of state, including his decision to supply state voter data for President Trump's voter fraud commission and a 2015 leak of close to 6.2 million voters' information, including Social Security numbers and driver's license numbers.
"I appreciate you not calling it a hack like the fake news AJC did," he said when asked about the 2015 incident. Kemp said emphasized the incident was instead an employee disregarding security policy, and his office's delayed statement was an effort to get the data discs back and not raise attention to it. Kemp was hit with a class-action lawsuit because of the breach, and offered free credit monitoring and identity theft restoration services for those affected. Kemp said no one ended up needing the services.
Regarding his compliance with the Trump administration's request for voter files, Kemp reiterated that the data is available for anyone who requests it. He again blasted Abrams for complaining about giving the information to the voter fraud commission when Abrams received the same information for campaign purposes.
Kemp said he does not believe his office has sent the data to the commission yet, since the administration has yet to go through the proper channel of requesting the information.
"Anyone can govern in easy times," Kemp said, trying to turn the incidents to his favor. "Look who's going to be able to handle a hard time."
Before the secretary of state potentially faces off against Abrams or Stacey Evans, he'll have to get past three other Republican candidates, mostly notably Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. Whether or not Kemp's previous missteps affect voters’ decisions is yet to be seen.
In an effort to draw in the college crowd, as well as anyone who typically attends Georgia football games, a newly-formed student organization, Dawgs for Kemp, plans to rally for the gubernatorial candidate at a tailgate during the UGA-Samford game on Sept. 16.