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KENNESAW, Ga. — Ahead of a consequential Georgia gubernatorial election in November, former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams is confident that if one elusive voting bloc overwhelmingly votes for her, she will come out on top.
“If Black men vote for me, I will win Georgia,” Abrams said last Sunday during a campaign event titled “Stacey and the Fellas” at Forks & Flavors, a Black-owned eatery in Cobb County.
The most recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll from late last month shows that Abrams, the Democratic nominee, has significant ground to make up among Black voters, particularly Black men. Her opponent, incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, currently holds a 5-point lead over her, with key metrics indicating that Abrams has 90% of the Black female vote but just 80% of the Black male vote, with another 10% still undecided. While Republicans typically garner about 10% of the Black vote, experts say Democratic politicians cannot afford to slip far below 90% of the Black vote overall and still expect to win.
Just four years ago, in 2018, Abrams lost to Kemp by less than 1.5 percentage points despite garnering 97% of the Black female vote and 88% of the Black male vote.
But Abrams says she’s unfazed by the polling numbers three months out from Election Day.
“People have a reason to be suspicious when you believe that an election can transform the world and it doesn't happen,” she said in a face-to-face interview with Yahoo News just ahead of the campaign event. “It is absolutely understandable that people feel that there may not be a reason to show up. And that’s why my campaign is so intentional about reaching people where they are. ... I’m focusing on that [undecided] 10% because I want them to know that if they show up and if they participate, they will be, they’ll be served by an Abrams administration.”
In this second run, Abrams is committed to doing things differently under her vision of “One Georgia,” which seeks to reach the state’s diverse electorate where they’re at, both physically and ideologically. At Sunday’s event, more than 100 Black men of varying ages and political beliefs packed inside the restaurant to hear Abrams’s plan for Georgia. There were men with gold-plaid suits and others with feather-embossed fedoras and some decked out in a wide range of historically Black fraternity apparel, all eager to listen and ask questions about how she sought to build a safer, more equitable Peach State.
Abrams noted that she’s keen on interacting with people who agree with her, and just as enthused to connect with those who don’t. Her 11 years of experience working across the aisle in Georgia’s Republican-dominated Statehouse has helped to make that possible.
“My job is to deliver for people,” she said. “When I was a minority leader, it was in my title. I was going to lose unless I could work with people who didn’t share my ideology, who didn’t share my partisanship. My responsibility was to say that it’s about what people want, not what politics wants. People don’t care about your party. They care about their lives.”
One of the biggest issues for many Georgians is rising crime rates that have only increased since the COVID-19 pandemic. Though cities nationwide have seen a spike in crime, Atlanta, the state’s most populous city with 500,000 residents, saw a record number of homicide cases — 157 — in 2020, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the most in nearly two decades. The following year, crime continued to rise; June 2021 saw homicides increase by more than 50% and shootings increase by 40% from the previous year.
Public safety experts told a panel of Georgia lawmakers last year that there isn’t just one reason for the rise in crime and there can’t be just one solution.
“You can’t blame it all on the pandemic. You can’t blame it all on guns,” Pete Skandalakis, director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, told the Journal-Constitution. “You can’t blame it all on the criminal justice system. You can’t blame it on the police. You can’t even blame it [on] the riots that occurred out west or even in the city of Atlanta. There’s no one cause that causes a surge in crime rates.”
Despite the fact that Kemp has been in office during this rise in crime, many event attendees expressed both curiosity and skepticism about how Abrams plans to curb the violence.
Clithon Rice Jr., a registered Democrat with self-acknowledged “Republican views,” is undecided ahead of the election, but remains interested in Abrams’s plan to make the state safer.
“Everyone is going with the soft approach,” Rice, an Atlanta resident, told Yahoo News. “What is [Abrams] prepared to do to clean up our city?”
“I don’t like Kemp, but if he is going to clean up the crime, I will vote for him,” he added.
Another undecided attendee, Simeon Harris, shared similar concerns, but said there was no scenario in which he would vote for Kemp.
“I haven’t seen Stacey do the type of outreach through policy in Georgia, and I want to make sure my vote is for the policy for the community instead of for the popular person,” Harris, a father of four from Gwinnett County, said. “My vote has to be earned on every level.”
But not every resident expects Abrams to be the sole solution. Daryl Fairell, of Cobb County, believes Black men have a huge responsibility in turning crime numbers around.
“As Black men we have a responsibility to reach back and help the youth. I don’t think politicians can do it [alone],” he said. “We have to do it for our community.”
Fairell said he has already made up his mind about voting for Abrams.
“Since [Abrams’s] last stint I was with her and I was disappointed in the outcome, but I am confident this time she will be successful,” he said.
Abrams seems to understand how serious a concern crime is. She noted in her speech that a sheriff told her law enforcement needs help.
“Police want stricter gun laws,” she said during the portion of the event when she fielded questions from popular regional radio host and personality Frank Ski and the audience.
Even more specific to Black men, Abrams notes that safety, justice and opportunity are paramount.
“We know that for gun safety, this isn’t just an esoteric conversation,” she said. “This is about life and death, but we also need to make certain we’ve got law enforcement that can protect us and be held responsible and accountable when they don’t do right. We need a governor who actually understands that you can both support law enforcement and publicly talk about accountability and transparency, and that you’re not betraying one to lift up the other.”
But Kemp has made it easier to get guns in Georgia. In April, he signed a bill that allows permitless carry of a concealed handgun in public, despite a poll from the Journal-Constitution just months prior revealing that nearly 70% of Georgia voters oppose permitless carry and believe that Georgians should not be allowed to carry a gun without a license.
“People don’t have to carry if they don’t want to,” Kemp said at the bill’s signing. “But this is a constitutional authority that people have, and they certainly shouldn’t have [to have] a piece of paper from the government to be able to legally carry a weapon.”
In a statement to Yahoo News, Kemp’s office said the governor deserves credit for keeping Georgians safe.
“Throughout his first term, Governor Kemp has championed legislation to toughen penalties for violent criminals, crack down on street racers and give law enforcement the resources necessary to go after street gangs,” Tate Mitchell, Kemp’s press secretary, told Yahoo News. “When local officials in Atlanta refused to take action, the governor formed a coalition of state and local law enforcement to protect Georgians and keep our streets safe.”
Ahead of Election Day, with the Black male vote as a key demographic, experts believe the Georgia governor’s race will again be a close one.
“This race will be a nail-biter, down to the wire,” Democratic strategist Ameshia Cross told Yahoo News. “If the Abrams campaign continues to struggle to make inroads with fervent Black male support, she will be in big trouble.
“Abrams’s campaign is adding vital civic leaders, seasoned Georgia campaign professionals and trusted community voices for this next leg of the cycle,” Cross added. “She’s a proven fundraising phenom, but it will take more targeted outreach to bring the voter haul necessary for Abrams to succeed.”
Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright sees the margin Abrams has to make up with Black men as a golden opportunity.
“I think that Stacey Abrams and our party have a tremendous responsibility and opportunity to educate and engage, perhaps the most consequential voting bloc in a generation, and that’s Black men,” Seawright told Yahoo News. “We often refer to the Black vote with its strength and its power, but that’s a collective Black vote — Black men and Black women. And if we don’t have two of those things rising together, you dilute the power and the strength of the Black vote.
“So I think there’s a real opportunity for Stacey Abrams to make a specific case to Black men, as a Black woman, of what she would bring to the table from a leadership perspective because, make no mistake, all of us who are Black men, we all have benefited from the works, the consequences and the sacrifice of so many Black women.”
Exactly 90 days from this year’s election, Abrams is once again seeking to do what many think is impossible — beat a Republican incumbent at a time when Republicans are believed to be favored in the national midterm elections.
But with a focus on connecting with Georgia residents, she is optimistic for a different outcome this time around.
“Look at who I am and compare me to the other guy and see what you think about what he has done and what I have done,” she said. “And for four years, without the title of governor, I have worked on making certain we can vote and that we have the right to thrive in our communities.
“I’ve done everything I can to lift up our communities,” she added. “And I hope that that stands as a good way to start our new friendship.”
Cover thumbnail: Kevin Lowery for One Georgia