When you typed briankemp.com into your browser as of a week ago, someone popped up on your computer screen who was definitely not Brian Kemp.
In fact, when you went to that website, you saw a person who was the exact opposite of Brian Kemp. You saw Stacey Abrams, his Democratic opponent for governor. That's because the owner of briankemp.com — whoever he or she may be — was definitely not Brian Kemp. The owner of briankemp.com thought it would be better to route you to another useful website: staceyabrams.com.
The digs against Georgia's Republican candidate for governor went further. If you searched on Twitter for the handle "@BrianKemp," you saw someone who looked a lot like Brian Kemp. But this person was also not Brian Kemp. It was an imposter, someone who manipulated Brian Kemp's upper body — the upper body of a proud University of Georgia alumnus — into a Creamsicle orange polo, the colors of the University of Tennessee.
The digs went further. When the Tennessee Volunteers played the Georgia Bulldogs on Sept. 29, the Georgia Democratic Party paid for a plane to fly over Sanford Stadium with a banner: "@BRIANKEMP SAYS GO VOLS." (Georgia beat Tennessee, 38-12.)
But now that's all changed. When you go to briankemp.com, you see the real Brian Kemp — and state Rep.-elect Colton Moore.
Moore, R-Lookout Mountain, bought the domain name last week. He said he and the previous owner signed a nondisclosure agreement, but he added that the purchase price was five figures. He said this money did not come out of his campaign fund.
"It's absolutely critical in this modern age of politics to acquire an exact match domain with a candidate," he said. "What we saw with Stacey Abrams and her political hack, running @BrianKemp Go Vols — it was a guerrilla tactic in campaign warfare."
He added: "The millennial generation, we're going to respond a lot more to the internet of things. I'm curious to see what kind of traffic this yields, that we saved, that would have gone to Stacey Abrams' website."
Moore, 25, defeated incumbent State Rep. John Deffenbaugh in the Republican Primary in May and will take office at the beginning of next year. The day after his victory, he said Kemp called to congratulate him. He endorsed Kemp over his opponent in the Republican Primary, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.
He said he learned about the website trolling in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article in September. He and his old University of Georgia roommate, Michael Gargiulo, began to look into buying the domain. Gargiulo said he has bought and sold domain names for a decade — including the purchase of VPN.com for $1 million — and found briankemp.com for sale on an online marketplace.
Gargiulo said he and the domain name owner sent offers and counter offers to each other for about 36 hours before reaching an agreement last week. Like Moore, he couldn't disclose the purchase price.
"It wasn't $99,000," he told the Times Free Press. "But it was definitely five figures and definitely something that will serve Colton well and Republicans well going forward."
As they negotiated, Gargiulo said he never learned the identity of the domain name's owner. But all signs point to another man named Brian Kemp who works in public relations in California. A search of the @BrianKemp Twitter handle finds posts to flex.com. Meanwhile, a LinkedIn page shows a Brian Kemp in Redwood City, California, who works as the director of public relations for a company called Flex.
There is also a blog that California's Brian Kemp ran, which hasn't been updated for three years. The blog links to a website called kemppr.com. As of Friday evening, if you typed that website in — just like with briankemp.com — it will take you to Abrams' campaign website.
The circle is connected. But the @BrianKemp Twitter handle remains coy. When a reporter asked if he sold the domain last week for "five figures," the person running the handle responded as if he were the Republican candidate for governor.
"Oh wow, that's a lot of money, but not as much as the $500k loan I haven't paid back!" he wrote, referring to a lawsuit against an oilseed producer, for which Kemp is an investor and a guarantor on a loan.
He added: "Well sounds like I got a good price. Maybe I can buy a new shotgun to point at a teenager!"
Ryan Mahoney, spokesman for the Kemp campaign, said the briankemp.com domain name has not been available since Kemp ran for state senator in 2002. During his political career, he has used other names — kempforsenate.com, kempmeansbusiness.com and kempforgovernor.com.
He didn't believe the specific domain name made that much of a difference.
"There's never been a need to acquire that URL or acquire that Twitter handle," Mahoney said. "It's kind of ingrained in the way we talk when we're stumping for supporters. Its just been kempforgovernor.com. We've been happy with that URL."
Moore, however, thinks this could make a difference.
"I can't voice an opinion for every voter out there," he said. "But what [the old domain owner did] is give unnecessary recognition and press to Stacey Abrams, as tight as this race is. Look at every poll. They're neck and neck. This is going to be a pretty big accomplishment in the final weeks of the campaign."
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.