ATLANTA (AP) — Stacey Abrams, the Georgia Democrat and leading voting rights activist, said Wednesday that she will launch another campaign to become the nation’s first Black woman governor.
Without serious competition in a Democratic primary, the announcement sets up a likely rematch between Abrams and incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp. Their 2018 contest was one of the most narrowly decided races for governor that year and was dominated by allegations of voter suppression, which Kemp denied.
Yet Abrams’ strong showing convinced national Democrats that Georgia should no longer be written off as a GOP stronghold. Her performance and subsequent organization convinced Joe Biden to invest heavily in the state in 2020, and he became the first Democratic presidential candidate to capture it since 1992. The party later won a narrow Senate majority after victories in two special elections in the state.
The 2022 governor’s race will test whether those gains were a one-time phenomenon driven by discomfort with then-President Donald Trump or marked the beginning of a more consequential political shift in a rapidly growing and diversifying South.
In a state where Democrats often sought — and failed — to win power by relying on Black voters and appealing to older white moderates, Abrams ran in 2018 as an unapologetic progressive. The 47-year-old Abrams embraced expanding Medicaid access, something a series of Republican governors have refused to do, and supported abortion rights.
Georgia remains narrowly divided, and voters often reject the president’s party during the first election of their presidency. But in abandoning nods at centrism, Abrams insists Democrats can attract new voters, including recent transplants to the booming Atlanta area, Black voters who hadn’t participated in previous elections and younger, more liberal white voters.
Although Kemp defeated her by 1.4 percentage points, Abrams won 778,000 more votes than the previous Democrat to run for governor.
Abrams was defiant in the face of the 2018 loss, acknowledging Kemp as the victor but refusing to concede the race, citing “gross mismanagement” in his role as secretary of state overseeing the election. She accused Kemp of using his office to aggressively purge the rolls of inactive voters, enforce an “exact match” policy for checking voters’ identities that left thousands of registrations in limbo and to pass other measures to tile the outcome in his favor.
Kemp has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
Following the election, Abrams started a new organizing group called Fair Fight, which has raised more than $100 million and built a statewide political operation that registered hundreds of thousands of new voters in Georgia. The state saw record-breaking turnout in the 2020 presidential race and January Senate runoff elections.
Now, Abrams and Kemp look likely to face each other in a rematch in a new political climate. For one, Kemp faces opposition from Trump and his most GOP loyal supporters for not supporting the former president’s baseless argument that he was cheated out of reelection through massive voter fraud, including in Georgia. Election officials conducted three recounts in the state, each of which affirmed Biden’s victory.
Trump, who campaigned for Kemp in 2018, is now one of the governor’s most vocal critics. The former president held a rally in the state in September, pointedly inviting former U.S. Sen. David Perdue to run against Kemp and sarcastically suggesting to the crowd that he would prefer Abrams to the incumbent governor.
Kemp’s disavowal of problems in Georgia’s election results — and Trump’s animus toward him — did not stop him from pushing through restrictive changes to voting laws in response to Trump’s 2020 national defeat. Many Democrats are worried that Georgia’s new law, which gives the GOP-controlled legislature more control over elections officials, will reverse Abrams’ years of work fighting voter suppression. Still other Democrats hope the new voting law will invigorate their supporters and make them even more determined to go to the polls.
Abrams has used voting concerns to mobilize Democrats, telling The Associated Press in April that “Republicans are gaming the system because they’re afraid of losing an election.”
Republicans, meanwhile, have tried to gain an upper hand by using the prospect of an Abrams candidacy to galvanize its voters. Earlier this year, Kemp allies preemptively formed a group called Stop Stacey, aimed specifically at stopping her from winning the governorship in 2022.
Abrams faces vulnerabilities on several fronts. Her national stature could raise questions that she’s more interested in eventually seeking higher office than in running the state. Republicans tried to blame her for Major League Baseball’s decision to pull the All-Star Game out of Atlanta last year over backlash to the restrictive new voting law, though Abrams repeatedly discouraged boycotts.
Republicans have also blasted Abrams as a hypocrite, arguing she criticized Trump for not conceding to Biden when she herself refused to concede to Kemp and called the election she lost “rigged.”
Abrams has taken pains to distinguish what she did after the 2018 election from Trump’s actions, noting she didn’t file a legal challenge to the results as the former president did in multiple states.
“For every single voter, my responsibility was not to challenge the legitimacy of our democracy — it was to challenge those who would undermine that democracy,” Abrams told the Bitter Southerner in August. “And so when I made my non-concession concession speech, it was for exactly that reason.”
One issue from the 2018 campaign has since been resolved: Abrams paid off her IRS tax debt, including $54,000 in back taxes, in 2019 and then bought a $975,000 house in suburban DeKalb County.
Moving forward, she is part of a growing contingent of Black women seeking statewide office.
Deirdre DeJear has announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for governor in Iowa. In Florida, Democratic Rep. Val Demings is running for the Senate. In North Carolina, former state Sen. Erica Smith and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley are competing in the Democratic primary for Senate.
And in Virginia, Winsome Sears was elected lieutenant governor as a Republican.
But none has the national stature of Abrams.
Since 2018, Abrams was named to Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people. She was featured in Vogue and interviewed on a podcast by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. She wrote two books, including a legal thriller. She sold one of her old romance novels, written under the pen name Selena Montgomery, for development as a television program. She launched a 12-city speaking tour.
She considered a run for president in 2020 before eventually deciding against it. When Biden became the nominee, she openly lobbied to be his running mate, a position that ultimately went to Kamala Harris, the first Black woman and first person of South Asian descent to hold that post.
Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.