Republican Brian Kemp is the apparent winner in Georgia governor's race, defeating Stacey Abrams: NBC News

Secretary of State Brian Kemp addresses the audience and declares victory during an election watch party on July 24, 2018 in Athens, Georgia. 
Jessica McGowan | Getty Images
Secretary of State Brian Kemp addresses the audience and declares victory during an election watch party on July 24, 2018 in Athens, Georgia. 

Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp is the apparent winner of Georgia's gubernatorial election, denying Democrat Stacey Abrams' bid to become the nation's first black woman governor, NBC News projects.

On Friday, Kemp urged Georgians to move on, saying on Twitter that the state "can no longer dwell on the divisive politics of the past but must focus on Georgia's bright and promising future."

The hotly contested campaign was steeped in issues of race, voting rights and the future of the Deep South. Kemp, who as secretary of State is Georgia's chief elections official, tried to enforce the state's strict rules for voter registration. Supporters said he was trying to ensure that noneligible residents were prevented from voting, but critics said he was trying to suppress blacks from casting ballots against him.

Days before the election, his moves were rebuffed in federal court.

He also made 11th-hour accusations against the Democrats claiming they tried to hack the state's voter registration. But he produced no evidence, and Abrams accused him of making a desperate late attempt to win.

Earlier Friday, Abrams pledged to file a "major federal lawsuit against the state of Georgia for the gross mismanagement of this election and to protect future elections." In a speech that she insisted was not a concession, Abrams acknowledged that Kemp would be Georgia's next governor.

Kemp and his allies condemned Abrams as "too extreme for Georgia," pointing to her liberal stances on issues like health care and immigration. Kemp ran a pro-Trump campaign full of conservative appeals on issues like immigration and tax cuts to fire up the conservative base.

In the days before the elections, polls showed the candidates were virtually tied and that the contest might move to a December runoff. Former President Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey campaigned for Abrams, while President Donald Trump stumped for Kemp.