Stacey Abrams’ playbook faces another second-inning test for Georgia governor

An outsider with few supporters outside of Georgia four years ago, the former State House Minority Leader is now one of the nation’s most popular Democrats – a political star some party members wanted running for president and a key figure to help turn the state blue for Joe Biden in 2020 and the Democratic Sens election. Raphael Warnock, who is on the ballot again this year, and Jon Ossoff in subsequent ballots.

Abrams’ rise to national prominence also sparked a backlash from Republicans. His efforts to increase ballot access and participation in communities traditionally ignored by candidates of both parties have clashed with Trump-inspired Republican efforts to make voting more difficult, with Georgia leading the way. Abrams also faces a tougher political atmosphere: The 2018 Democratic wave has peaked and the 2022 midterm elections are expected to be much softer for Republicans, who are now riding a wave of discontent over Biden and of the Democratic regime on Capitol Hill.

“We need to reach every voter, in every way possible. We had record turnout and we saw a voter mix the state has never seen before,” Abrams told CNN. “My mission in 22 is to get back to those voters and tell them how by working together, we can make sure they thrive, and that will lead us to victory in November.”

In March, she kicked off her “One Georgia” tour outside a shuttered rural hospital, pledging to expand Medicaid if elected. While nationally recognized for her work as a suffrage advocate and organizer, Abrams centers — again — her campaign on the state’s economic disparities and the intersection of race and health care in a state where the maternal mortality rate is more than twice the national average.

Abrams’ main supporters are confident that his message will pierce the national din.

“Stacey has a very localized approach. And I think that’s really important because if we were to gauge how people are going to vote based on Biden’s approval ratings, we know it’s going to be a disaster,” said Michelle Sanchez. , field director for Poder Latinx. “But she’s been a champion here in Georgia for so long.”

The restrictive electoral law passes its first big test

As early voting in Georgia wrapped up ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Abrams also came under attack from Republicans for Democrats’ denunciations of the state’s new restrictive voting measures. Their argument: the record turnout so far undermines any criticism or suggestion that they were passed in an effort to suppress the vote.

“Remember when Biden smeared (Georgia’s) Election Integrity Act by calling it ‘Jim Crow 2.0’?” Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, an ally of Trump.

But Abrams said the headlines ignored the targeted nature of the law, known as SB 202.

Black religious leaders push back after elimination of Sunday voting in a Georgia county

“The moral equivalent of saying voter turnout defuses or refute voter suppression is like saying more people getting in the water means there are no more sharks,” she said. .

New state voting rules limit the number of drop boxes for mail-in ballots and reduce the hours they are accessible; make it more difficult for voters to vote provisionally if they choose the wrong polling station; creating new obstacles for voters wishing to vote by post; and, in a move that made national headlines, banning groups from offering food or water within 25 feet of waiting voters or 150 feet from a polling station.

“We have to remember that voter suppression is not about arresting every voter,” Abrams said. “It’s about blocking and hindering voters who are considered troublesome.”

Abrams and his supporters put new resources to work

Despite Trump’s upheaval of the Republican primary, the GOP campaign apparatus is poised to wage a fierce campaign against Abrams in 2022. Democratic groups and Abrams’ campaign know this and believe they are better equipped – and funded – to implement the intensive preparatory work. it was a feature of his first run for governor.

“What has changed in his campaign is just that they have more resources, so they have a bigger budget and more visibility,” said Abigail Collazo, spokeswoman for Abrams in 2018.

Collazo pointed to the hiring of a full-time American Sign Language interpreter and director of voter services — jobs traditionally tied to elected offices — to the new campaign as a prime example of his intent to engage. immediately deeper into underserved areas. communities around the state.

“She’s not waiting for the job title. Now we’ve seen what you’re doing and what you can do with extra funds,” Collazo said. “And it’s not just about funneling it all into very expensive tech tools and the other things that people throw at you.”

Organization among Democrats has also matured since 2018, when Abrams came within 2 points of defeating Kemp, who was then Secretary of State. The influence of Asian American voters, in particular, has also been highlighted by the recent success of Democrats in the state.

Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood, executive director of the Asian American Advocacy Fund of Georgia, which has backed Abrams, said when Mahmood ran for state seat in 2018, there was no “coherent effort to mobilize communities Asian Americans for a progressive candidate”.

But Abrams’ near miss — along with Democratic successes in 2020 and 2021, which helped Biden to the presidency and gave the party control of the Senate — changed the equation.

“Now there’s so much more focus and strategic support for Stacey before November,” Mahmood said. “Whether it’s directly from her campaign — I’m sure she’s got an incredible strategy planned — but also generally from those independent political organizations like ours that are willing to really throw in a way that, unfortunately, we don’t. didn’t have to see in 2018.”

Grassroots organizers, like the Abrams-founded group New Georgia Project Action Fund, are confident an Abrams victory is possible because of the infrastructure they’ve built, including a plan to attract 150,000 new voters.

“What we’ve learned is that we need to do a better job of reaching black men. That was integral, part of why she was defeated. And we were more intentional about reaching that group. demographic, not just New Georgia Project, but others in the progressive ecosystem,” said Kendra Cotton, chief operating officer of New Georgia Project and its affiliate New Georgia Project Action Fund.

Kimberlyn Carter, executive director of Represent Georgia Action Network, also sees a path for Abrams.

“Georgia is truly a state filled with voters eager to be seen, heard and engaged,” said Carter, who argued that the state’s changing racial demographics make Democrats like Abrams more competitive than they weren’t before in areas outside of metro Atlanta. Region.

The campaign will be won or lost at the grassroots level, said Hillary Holley, formerly organizing director and strategic adviser for Fair Fight, another activist group founded by Abrams. Holley worked on the 2018 campaign and says the devastation among Abrams supporters is still raw.

“I think voters are ready to finish the job,” she said.

Kemp says Abrams will unify divided GOP

Kemp had a bumpier road to his expected rematch with Abrams.

While Abrams has no competition for the Democratic nomination, the governor faces a Trump-backed primary challenge from former Sen. David Perdue, who lost his seat to Ossoff last year.

Republicans look to Georgia to find a way past Trump's grievances in 2020

Although Kemp is on the verge of defeating Perdue and Republicans in the state – whether they support Trump or not – seem to ignore the former president’s contribution, the divisions underscored by Trump’s involvement could potentially dampen the process. GOP support for the incumbent in November.

Kemp largely ignored Perdue’s stumbling campaign and on Monday sought to downplay Trump’s opposition.

“I’m not mad at him,” Kemp said of the former president. “I think he’s just mad at me, and that’s something I can’t control.”

Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Kemp singled out his Democratic rival as the figure who, more than anyone, would inflame wavering GOP voters.

“I think Stacey Abrams is a great unifier,” Kemp said. “I think all Republicans in Georgia will be unified after Tuesday.”

For her part, Abrams said she was “looking forward to unifying all of Georgia.”

“I’m happy,” she joked, “(Kemp) said I was halfway there.”

CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to clarify Kendra Cotton’s position as Chief Operating Officer of New Georgia Project and its affiliate New Georgia Project Action Fund.

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