For Stacey Abrams, Friday was harvest day, and it was bountiful.
As the sun rose over Georgia, the Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden, took the lead in the state and moved ever closer to becoming the country’s next president. At the same time, Abrams, the former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives and candidate for governor, rose to a torrent of congratulatory messages on social media. They were thanking her for her years of grassroots efforts to turn the state’s disenfranchised population into the bloc of powerful voters that proved critical in delivering Georgia to Biden, and in changing the outcome in key races across the state.
“Stacey absolutely deserves her accolades,” said Nikema Williams, the chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia and the U.S. representative-elect for the state’s 5th district seat that was left vacant by the death of John Lewis. “Stacey was out there talking to people all across the state,” Williams said. “She gave us the hope to believe that we have power in our voices.”
If Biden holds the lead in Georgia, it will be the first time in almost three decades that the state selected a Democratic presidential candidate. In addition to Biden’s apparent success in Georgia, two Democratic contenders for the state’s U.S. Senate seats also won the right to face its two incumbent Republican senators in a January runoff that could change the balance of power in the Senate. On Friday night, one of Abrams’ chief rivals, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, sent a fundraising appeal: “The U.S. Senate hangs in the balance, and ALL EYES ARE ON GEORGIA.”
Many people across the state worked to make it happen, but much credit goes to Abrams, a 46-year old Yale-educated lawyer, author and graduate of Atlanta’s historically Black Spelman College. She grabbed the nation’s attention in 2018 when she barely lost the gubernatorial race.Kemp’s razor-thin margin was largely due to an estimated 800,000 people registered by organizations Abrams established or worked closely with. A “playbook” she sent to party leaders last September proved prophetic: “My campaign for governor engaged, organized and inspired traditional voters and brought new voices to the table.” She urged party leaders to focus on Georgia. “When analyzing next year’s political landscape and electoral opportunities,” Abrams wrote, “any less than full investment in Georgia would amount to strategic malpractice.”
Abrams couldn’t be reached for comment in response to Biden taking the lead in Georgia. But on Twitter, she thanked several people and organizations for what she called “10 years to new Georgia,” and stated simply, “My heart is full.”
Now Abrams, who earlier this year was on Biden’s short list of vice presidential candidates, is once again in the national spotlight, as a potential choice to join a Biden administration. But many in the state believe that Abrams’ focus is still on pursuing the governor’s mansion and that she’s unlikely to be swayed by any opportunity that takes her away from the 2022 gubernatorial race. “I absolutely think she should be offered a position in the administration,” Williams said. “But I would love for her to be my governor.”
Abrams often explains that her desire to become governor first took root when she was a high school student in metro Atlanta. She was the valedictorian of her class, and when she and her parents took the bus to the governor’s mansion for a celebration with other high school valedictorians from across the state, they were unceremoniously stopped by security at the gate.
“I believe that she understands the importance of the governorship in the state of Georgia, and I believe what we are witnessing now will take her over the edge to become the next governor of Georgia,” said Mary Pat Hector, a Black youth vote coordinator, who at age 19 ran for city council in a metro Atlanta community and supported Abrams’ campaign for governor in 2018. “We have to give her a few years, and we have to keep that same energy in the upcoming elections.”
After years in the state legislature, Abrams introduced her plan to corral Georgia’s changing electorate about a year before the 2014 gubernatorial and Senate contests. She founded The New Georgia Project, with the idea of abandoning the typical political wisdom — that elections are won by targeting likely voters — and going after low-propensity minority and young voters instead. The goal: visit each voter three to four times to get them to turn out. She later created Fair Fight, whose mission to combat voter suppression often had her clashing with Kemp, who was then secretary of state. (Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, donated $5 million to Fair Fight in 2019.)
Hector, who also is a graduate of Spelman, touted Abrams’s connection to the prestigious all-women’s college. “One thing I would have to say about Georgia and the politics down here is, ‘Trust Black women,’” Hector said. “The reason why you’re seeing what you’re seeing from the communities that we’re seeing them from is because there are Black women constantly, day-in-and-day-out working and organizing.”
Adrienne Jones, assistant professor of political science at Morehouse College, said this moment is the manifestation of Abrams’ yearslong get-out-the-vote efforts. She said Abrams’s persistent push for voter registration, even after the gubernatorial loss, was instrumental.
Jones predicted Abrams can now have any job she chooses — governor, head of the Democratic National Committee or a role in a Biden administration — even president of the United States one day. “I feel like the world is her oyster,” Jones said.
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