Governor-elect Brian Kemp will be sworn in on Monday in Atlanta, and he’s been on a victory tour this week. That tour noticeably excludes any stops here in the metro area.
The route mirrors where Kemp spent a lot of his time campaigning and where a lot of his votes came from.
At the kickoff of the victory tour in Augusta Wednesday, Brian Kemp reassured supporters he isn’t going to change: “When we decided to come do these thank you tours and let Georgians know that putting Georgians first, that wasn’t just a campaign slogan,” he said. “I want people across this state and all four corners to know that we’re not going to forget about our travels.”
There were a lot of travels. Kemp crisscrossed the state a few times over on grueling campaign bus tours. And looking at the election results map, the miles seem to have made a difference.
Rick Richards was at the Augusta event. He’s a doctor from Evans. “The people outside Atlanta, we get left out,” he said. “There may be discussions, but we’re not aware of it. So when a politician comes to this area once, that’s nice. But when they come several times, then they must have an interest in listening.”
Becky Balliew was also at the Augusta event. She’s from Lincoln County and values Kemp’s emphasis on rural Georgia. “Brian seems to be focusing on rural areas that seem to get left behind sometimes,” she said. “Our industry is zero and we need some ideas and some people interested in helping us grow.”
Robert M. Williams, Jr. is the publisher of SouthFire Newspapers out of Blackshear, in south Georgia. He said it was a big deal that Kemp visited multiple times: “When you come into a small community like ours, it doesn’t take as much time, as much work to make a relatively big impact. When you make one appearance, well thanks to my newspaper, and some other things, everybody in this community knows you’ve been here.”
News travels fast in a small town. And, as Williams put it: “We’re a long way from the main highway of politics in Georgia.”
Williams said he is used to politicians who don’t even know where Blackshear is. “When you’ve lived your life in deep South Georgia, you learn to have a great appreciation for folks who understand where you are and how far away it is that you live.”
Appealing to rural Georgia isn’t a new political tactic, Williams said, but still, he said he can’t remember any politician who has traveled as much in recent years.
“Here in this area, we sometimes feel like Atlanta gets everything,” said Jane Curry, a longtime Republican campaign volunteer who worked on Kemp’s campaign. “That’s not always true, but maybe in some instances it is. And sometimes we feel like our tax money is going just to Atlanta, when in reality it isn’t.” Curry said she is also hopeful Kemp will be able better explain to rural Georgia where funds are going and what’s going on in Atlanta.
Kemp’s focus outside of Atlanta may have won him this election. “Probably the difference in the election was outside Atlanta,” Richards said. “It was a very narrow margin of victory, and I’d bet money that margin was due to Mr. Kemp’s ability and willingness to get outside of Atlanta and talk to people.”
A question going forward? Will he pay attention to Republicans in the metro area, too? That’s where the party suffered losses in November.
It’ll also be worth watching whether Kemp’s promises to rural Georgia translate into policy.
Many governors have tried to fix his area’s problems, Williams said. “A lot of governor’s have talked about it. But nobody’s been able to really, successfully transfer it into a reality.”
But still, “Hope springs eternal,” he said. “Everybody who buys a lottery ticket thinks this is the one that’s going to be the big one. This is the one that’s going to change my life.”
It’s just like casting a vote for governor, he said.