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Four years ago, Democrat Stacey Abrams came within 1.4% of defeating Republican Brian Kemp in a governor’s race now viewed as an opening salvo in the fight to turn Georgia blue.

Why it matters: The political winds shaping this fall’s highly anticipated rematch between popular incumbent Kemp and Abrams — a fundraising juggernaut with national name recognition — are remarkably different.

The big picture: The pandemic, racial reckoning over the killing of George Floyd, and inflation unleashed by the war in Ukraine and recovering global economy have fundamentally changed the debate over top election issues.

Driving the news: Despite Georgia swinging blue in 2020, Republicans are feeling confident about their chances in November — Kemp has maintained a narrow lead over Abrams, including in a new poll out Wednesday, and Cook Political Report rates the governor’s race “Lean R.”

Flashback: In 2018, the Trump-endorsed Kemp was known for running a provocative, hard-right campaign with ads that featured a promise to “round up criminal illegals” in a truck.

Today, Kemp is an incumbent (with the Chamber’s endorsement) who was among the first governors to start to reopen a state’s economy during the pandemic, despite national criticism.

The other side: Four years ago, Abrams shot to national prominence as the first Black woman in the country to be a major party’s gubernatorial nominee. She campaigned as a former minority leader of the Georgia House who worked across the aisle with Republicans to get things done.

Between the lines: “Abrams did a very good job in 2018 of painting the governor in a light that was not favorable in a relatively poor year for Republicans across the country,” said Kemp’s campaign communications director and senior adviser Cody Hall, who also worked on the 2018 race.

Abrams’ 2018 and 2022 campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo counters that Kemp’s policies, which include refusing to expand Medicaid and supporting anti-abortion rights and pro-gun laws, are “wildly unpopular.”

Zoom out: Groh-Wargo, who worked on Democratic campaigns during both Obama midterms, said she’s taking the headwinds driven by inflation and an unpopular president seriously: “I’ve seen this movie. I’m very aware of what’s happened.”

Threat level: While Georgia Republicans feel cautiously optimistic about Kemp’s chances, they are still eyeing Abrams’ massive war chest with apprehension.

This content was originally published here.

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