Despite state's division, Stacey Abrams has a plan for 'One Georgia'
Since losing the Georgia governor's race in 2018, Stacey Abrams has become a national figure and Democratic rising star. But she promises her second campaign to lead the state is still down to earth and focused on improving the lives of all Georgians.
"I want to see us have one Georgia, and that means being willing to serve everyone, including those who don't always agree with you," Abrams said in an interview Wednesday. "And we have not seen that happen at the state level."
After falling about 55,000 votes short of becoming America's first Black female governor, the former state House minority leader says current Republican leadership has not done enough over the past three years to tackle the biggest problems people are facing, whether it's health care or education or the coronavirus.
"As a policy matter, I've watched us grapple with the pandemic and grapple with the exposure of the broken parts of our public infrastructure," Abrams said in an interview Wednesday. "And the major galvanizing force for me has been the remarkable inactivity of the governor, his refusal to try to fix the broken pieces."
A central tenet of Gov. Brian Kemp's campaign and first term of office has been boosting rural Georgia, with initiatives like the Rural Strike Team and record-setting investment and expansion of economic growth. But Abrams said there are still pockets of the state that are being left behind.
"We should be a place where opportunity thrives for every single part of our state," she said. "We have work to do, but we also have the opportunity to grow these communities. We have too many parts of our state that are leading the nation in its poverty rate and income inequality. Those are solvable problems, but you have to have a governor who is more excited about solving problems than taking credit for solutions that others have created."
Georgia is divided in many ways, but one of the more noticeable splits is the widening gulf between the fast-growing, economically thriving metro Atlanta area and the rest of the state, as evidenced by recent U.S. Census numbers that show 67 of 159 counties losing population in the past decade while four counties around Atlanta accounted for half the state's growth.
Some call it the "Two Georgias." Abrams wants to fix that.
"We have watched failed leadership refuse to respond to imminent crises in the state," she said. "People are in real pain, and we need real leadership, and that's my focus. That was my focus in 2018, and it will be my focus in 2022. If I'm elected, it will be my focus for four years as governor of Georgia."
With Georgia serving as a new battleground state, every vote counts, and both Democrats and Republicans must search for ways to reach more people than their most dedicated base, but Abrams is no stranger to expanding an electorate.
While Democrats dominate in metro Atlanta, larger cities and across the Black Belt in Southwest Georgia, she has long focused on visiting communities that don't typically vote Democratic, too. She became House minority leader in 2010 when Democrats had little power and traveled the state, building relationships and identifying areas where an impact could be made at the local level.
"I know that if you talk to every voter, if you go to every part of our state, you can see changes happen," she said. "We've been able to work with organizations across the state who were simply waiting for someone to see them and to say that 'No, you don't have to be a marquee race to be an important opportunity for change in the state.'"
In the past decade, Democrats have steadily grown their power, winning control of local governments, flipping state legislative seats, two U.S. House seats, both U.S. Senate seats and electing a Democratic president for the first time in nearly 30 years.
Some of that is helped by the nationalization of races, and Abrams has become a household name in the past three years through work with her Fair Fight political organization, best-selling books, delivering the response to the State of the Union in 2019, and more.
Abrams is unashamedly progressive and running as a Democrat, of course, but her opening ad lacks the overt partisan rancor that is dominating national politics. That's because while her allegiance may be to the Democratic Party, her message is for everyone, she said.
"That's why I've sponsored and supported legislation that serves Georgians regardless of their partisan beliefs," Abrams said. "I want people to vote for me not simply because of my party. I want them to vote for me because as a person, I've demonstrated myself to be someone who spent the last three years working on the very same issues I said I would work on had I become governor."
Voting rights was a central tenet of her run for governor, and will likely feature prominently in this election cycle.
Kemp, the former secretary of state, is not guaranteed to win the GOP primary. Former President Donald Trump, who has obsessed with Georgia's elections after narrowly losing the state, has endorsed former Sen. David Perdue's bid to challenge Kemp. Perdue's campaign so far is focused upon false claims of election fraud and attacking Abrams.
Once again, Georgia's elections will serve an outsized role in political commentary and the future of American politics, and once again Abrams will play an outsized role in Democratic voters' hopes (and Republicans' fears) about what the Democratic Party can accomplish.
When asked about the attention and if people have placed too much of the world on her shoulders, Abrams was quick to respond that she recognizes her role as a personification for political and demographic transformations the country and state has experienced recently.
"I take great pride in being part of building this new coalition for Georgia, building a coalition that is in all 159 counties and building a coalition that reflects the needs of all Georgians, whether they agree with me or not," she said. "And if I can be that avatar, I can be one of those rallying points. I am happy to do so, because I know the work is being done by thousands of people across the state. And if I can bring attention to their work and help bring investment to the values that are Georgia values of access to education and opportunity, then I'm happy to have that role."