Stacey Abrams’ playbook faces a new test in her second Georgia gubernatorial bid

An underdog with few followers outside of Georgia four years ago, the former state House minority leader is now one of the most popular Democrats in the country — a political star some in the party wanted to run for president and a key figure to help. turning the blue state for Joe Biden in 2020 and electing Democratic senators Raphael Warnock, who is back on the ballot this year, and Jon Ossoff in later runoffs.

Abrams’ rise to national prominence has also sparked a backlash from Republicans. His efforts to increase ballot access and participation in communities traditionally overlooked by candidates of both parties have run up against Trump-inspired Republican efforts to make voting more difficult, with Georgia at the forefront of that line. Abrams must also deal with a tougher political atmosphere: The 2018 Democratic wave has peaked and the 2022 midterms are expected to be much kinder to Republicans, who are now experiencing a groundswell of discontent with Biden and the Democratic administration on Capitol Hill.

“We have to reach all voters, in every way we can. We had record turnout and saw a voter composition the state had never seen before,” Abrams told CNN. “My mission in 2022 is to go 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 launched her “One Georgia” tour in front of a shuttered rural hospital and pledged to expand Medicaid if elected. Though nationally recognized for her work as a voting rights advocate and organizer, Abrams is, again, focusing her campaign on the state’s economic disparities and the intersection of race and health care in a state where the death rate motherhood is more than twice the national average.

Early voting in Georgia is on the rise as voters grapple with new laws

Abrams’ main supporters are confident his message will break the national roar.

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

Restrictive voting law gets its first big test

As early voting wrapped up in Georgia ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Republicans also attacked Abrams over Democrats’ complaints about the state’s new restrictive voting measures. His argument: The record turnout so far undermines any criticism or suggestion that they were passed in an attempt to suppress the vote.

“Remember when Biden smeared (Georgia’s) Electoral Integrity Act as ‘Jim Crow 2.0’?” Trump ally Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tweeted last week.

But Abrams said the headline figures don’t take into account the specific nature of the law, known as SB 202.

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

“The moral equivalent of saying that voter turnout disables or refutes voter suppression is like saying that more people go underwater means there are no more sharks,” he said.

New state voting rules limit the number of drop boxes for absentee ballots and restrict the hours they are available; make it more difficult for voters to cast provisional ballots if they go to the wrong polling place; create new obstacles for voters seeking to cast their absentee ballot; and, in a move that made national headlines, prohibiting groups from offering food or water within 25 feet of waiting voters or 150 feet from a polling place.

“We have to remember that voter suppression is not about stopping all voters,” Abrams said. “It’s about blocking and impeding those voters who are considered inconvenient.”

Abrams and his followers put new resources to work

As unsettling as Trump is in the GOP primary, the GOP campaign apparatus is poised to run a fierce campaign against Abrams in 2022. Democratic groups and the Abrams campaign know this and believe they are better equipped, and better funded. , to enact intensive preliminary work. that was a hallmark of her first candidacy for her governor.

“What has changed in their campaign is simply that they have more resources. So they have a bigger budget and they have more attention,” said Abigail Collazo, an Abrams spokeswoman in 2018.

Collazo pointed to the hiring of a full-time American Sign Language interpreter and director of constituent services (positions traditionally tied to the offices of elected officials) for the new campaign as a select example of his intention to get more immediately involved. deep into the neglected. communities around the state.

“She’s not waiting for the job title. Now we’ve seen what you do and what you can do with additional funding,” Collazo said. “And it’s not just about funneling it all into really expensive tech tools and other things that people offer you.”

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

Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood, executive director of Georgia’s Asian American Advocacy Fund, which backed Abrams, said that when Mahmood ran for a state parliament seat in 2018, there was no “cohesive effort to mobilize Asian-American communities to favor of a progressive candidate.

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

“Now there is so much more attention and such strategic support for Stacey ahead of November,” Mahmood said. “Whether it’s directly from her campaign, I’m sure she has an incredible strategy planned, but also generally from these independent political organizations like ours that are ready to take down in a way that unfortunately we didn’t.” to see in 2018″.

Grassroots organizers like the Abrams-founded group New Georgia Project Action Fund are confident that 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 an integral part, part of the reason why she was defeated. And we’ve been more intentional about reaching that demographic, not just New Georgia.” Project, but others in the progressive ecosystem,” said Kendra Cotton, chief operating officer of the New Georgia Project and its affiliate New Georgia Project Action Fund.

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

“Georgia is truly a state filled with voters who are eager to be seen, heard and mobilized,” said Carter, who argued that the state’s changing racial demographics make Democrats like Abrams more competitive than ever in areas outside the metropolitan area. from Atlanta. region.

The campaign will be won or lost at the local 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 the voters are ready to finish the job,” he said.

Kemp says Abrams will unify divided GOP

Kemp has traveled a more bumpy road to his long-awaited rematch with Abrams.

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

Republicans look to Georgia for a path past Trump's 2020 grievances

Although Kemp is on the verge of defeating Perdue, and Republicans in the state, whether they support Trump or not, appear to be ignoring the former president’s opinion, the divisions underscored by Trump’s turnout could weaken GOP support for holder in November.

Kemp has largely ignored Perdue’s faltering campaign and, on Monday, tried 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 challenger as the figure who, more than anyone else, would ignite wavering Republican voters.

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

For her part, Abrams said she was “eager to unify all of Georgia.”

“I’m glad,” he joked, “(Kemp) said I’m halfway there.”

CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to clarify Kendra Cotton’s position as COO of the New Georgia Project and its affiliated New Georgia Project Action Fund.

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