When Stacey Abrams ran for governor of Georgia in 2018, she was relatively unknown. By 2020, though, her work in Georgia and for Democrats across the country made her a household name, in time for a second run.
Abrams ran unopposed in this year’s Democratic primaries. Now, she faces current Gov. Brian Kemp (R), whom she lost to by a narrow margin in 2018, in another contentious race. But this time, Abrams has an army of newly registered voters behind her.
In 2020, Abrams and a team of grassroots organizations registered more than 800,000 new voters, turning Georgia blue for the first time in decades and helping then former Vice President Joe Biden secure the presidency.
That mobilization will play greatly into Abrams’s chances to become the state’s first Black female governor, said Adrienne Jones, a Morehouse College assistant professor of political science and director of the historically Black college’s pre-law program. Now, Jones said, Abrams will need to grab the “multicultural vote” in higher numbers than she did in 2018.
“The GOP tends to have a lock on white voters, but the demographics in the state are changing,” Jones said. “So, [she’s] got to get some cross section of all of the groups.”
Four years ago, Abrams captured the majority of Black voters’ ballots in areas like Savannah, Atlanta and Augusta. This time around, Jones said, Abrams has to strengthen her support from LGBTQ+ voters, Asian voters and Latino voters.
“She’s going to have to … bring along some independent thinkers, as well as convince some non-traditional Democratic voters to show up in this election,” said Antjuan Seawright, founder and CEO of political consulting firm Blueprint Strategy.
That makeup would include rural white men, suburban white women and younger voters, Seawright added, a cross-section of voters some would see as a stretch for a Democratic candidate.
But the Democratic Governors Association has expressed confidence in Abrams getting those votes.
“She’s an energetic and dynamic candidate that is able to fire up the grassroots but at the same time also appeal to voters who are more in the middle because the issues that she’s talking about are things that impact everyone,” said Sam Newton, deputy communications director for the association.
Abrams’s platform focuses on combating voter suppression, providing access to higher education, expanding affordable housing and protecting civil rights. Newton added Abrams’s push for expanded health care is also a big selling point for the candidate.
“She kicked off her For One Georgia campaign by going to visit a rural hospital that is closed because Brian Kemp refuses to expand Medicaid,” Newton said. “She’s running on bread-and-butter issues that impact people’s everyday lives.”
Also working in Abrams’s favor this time around, Jones said, is that even after she lost, she didn’t “disappear for four years.”
“She maintained globalization. She’s been raising money, she’s been expanding her business prowess. She has persistently been improving her market,” Jones said.
That included endorsing other candidates running in Georgia elections, like Charlie Bailey for lieutenant governor, and urging Hollywood projects to remain in Georgia through her organization Fair Fight after several pulled their productions over the passage of restrictive voting laws. Like many Democrats, she also seized on the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion, voicing her support for pro-choice legislation and organizations.
Still, as Election Day nears, Abrams faces an uphill battle.
While the 2020 elections of Biden and Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) indicated a potential shift in Georgia politics, Seawright pointed out that the political climate is very different now than it was two years ago.
“Donald Trump is no longer a top-of-mind driving factor for Democrats to be energized against, or for Republicans to be energized for,” Seawright said.
That showed when Kemp pulled in nearly 74 percent of the Republican primary votes, easily beating his competitors – including the Trump-endorsed David Perdue.
Kemp also has stepped up his campaigning, telling voters Abrams thinks Georgia is the worst state to live in.
“Incumbency has its benefits, especially in this polarized environment,” Jones said. “Kemp’s able to advertise his bonafides and what he’s done as governor. He can claim to have beaten [Abrams] in the past, or the Democrats generally.”
And that’s exactly what keeps the Georgia Republican Party confident in Kemp’s reelection campaign.
“Governor Brian Kemp’s record stands for itself: he raised teacher pay, returned over a billion dollars to Georgia taxpayers and secured over $400 million for rural broadband access expansion, just to name a few accomplishments,” said Dani Repass, Georgia Republican Party press secretary, in a statement to The Hill. “Governor Kemp’s record puts Stacey Abrams’ to shame; while she’s been getting rich, the governor has been fighting for Georgians.”
But it’s not just Kemp’s record Abrams is fighting against — it’s been a tough year for Democrats across the country.
Biden’s approval rating in late May was only 36 percent, the lowest it’s been since he took office. Just this month, only 28 percent of voters said they approve of his handling of inflation. And when it comes to the generic congressional ballot, FiveThirtyEight polls show Democrats trail Republicans by more than 2 points.
But, Newton said, it’s the rest of Kemp’s record that gives Abrams an edge.
“He’s passed some of the most extreme laws in the country when it comes to banning abortion with no exceptions,” said Newton.
“His criminal carry bill was even opposed by law enforcement because it makes it easier for dangerous people to carry hidden weapons,” he added, referring to a law signed in April that allows Georgia gun owners to carry a concealed handgun in public without a state license.
Seawright said that what will really put Abrams over the edge is if she makes her campaign about Georgia and not national politics.
“Republicans … try and nationalize every election,” Seawright said. “What Abrams has to do is over-localize the election and make it all about Georgia: the needs of Georgia, not about the Democrats, not about the National Democratic Party. It has to be about the people of Georgia. It has to be a personalized election for her.”