Democrat Stacey Abrams acknowledged she had lost the Georgia governor's race to Republican Brian Kemp on Friday, but she said it was not a concession speech in a fiery indictment of her opponent and the state's election procedures.
"I acknowledge that former secretary of state Brian Kemp will be certified as the victor in the 2018 gubernatorial elections, but to watch an elected official who claims to represent the people in the state baldly pin his hopes for election on the suppression of the people's democratic right to vote has been truly appalling," Abrams said. "So let's be clear. This is not a speech of concession, because concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true, or proper. As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede that."
She called him "deliberate and intentional" in his actions and said eight years of divestment, disenfranchisement and incompetence had their desired effect. She predicted she would receive criticism for the tenor of her speech, rather than exhibiting the usual graciousness of a defeated candidate.
"Stoicism is a luxury, and silence is a weapon for those who would quiet the voices of the people, and I will not concede because the erosion of our democracy is not right," she said, adding she would pray for Kemp's success to be a governor for all Georgians.
Abrams, who is leaving her seat as a state senator, announced the launch of a group called "Fair Fight Georgia" and said it would engage in a "major federal lawsuit" against the state for what she called its mismanagement of the election.
Kemp, meanwhile, issued a statement praising Abrams for her hard work and service, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. The apparent governor-elect's campaign had been harshly critical of Abrams for not conceding the race earlier, calling her desperate.
"The election is over and hardworking Georgians are ready to move forward," Kemp said. "We can no longer dwell on the divisive politics of the past but must focus on Georgia’s bright and promising future."
Kemp stormed to the Republican nomination behind an unabashedly conservative platform and an endorsement from President Donald Trump. He wound up edging Abrams in the closest governor's race in the state since 1966.
Democrats have not won a governor's race in the Peach State since 1998. Abrams would have been the first black female governor in U.S. history had she pulled off the upset.
The Abrams campaign had indicated it could pursue a drastic legal remedy on Friday, in which it would try to prove the election was fraudulent and essentially toss out the results for a new election. Abrams said Friday she did not want to "scheme" her way into office.
But her tone was unmistakable: She felt she was cheated. Other prominent Democrats made similar claims this week, including Hillary Clinton and Democratic Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio).
"The state failed its voters," Abrams said, laying out a litany of examples what she described as "human error and a system of suppression. "Democracy failed Georgia."
Abrams and progressive groups filed multiple lawsuits over the past week to try to get thousands of discounted provisional and absentee ballots counted. They were victorious on some measures, getting ballots counted that were initially rejected because of birthdate errors, for example, but they never made enough of a dent in Kemp's lead to make a runoff look possible. As of Friday, he had about 50.2 percent of the vote.
Meanwhile, Georgia will head to a runoff on Dec. 4 in one key contest, the one to replace Kemp as secretary of state, a position that was closely scrutinized this cycle over progressive accusations of voter suppression. Republican Brad Raffensperger and Democrat John Barrow both failed to clear 50 percent of the vote, with Raffensperger ahead by about 19,000 votes as of Tuesday.