Senate buzz grows for Abrams after speech electrifies Dems

Democrats are clamoring for Stacey Abrams to enter Georgia’s Senate race after her response to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump watching 'very closely' as Portland braces for dueling protests WaPo calls Trump admin 'another threat' to endangered species Are Democrats turning Trump-like? MORE’s State of the Union address became one of the best-received rebuttals in years.

Many see Abrams as a potential presidential or vice presidential candidate and believe the sky is the limit, but she appears to have closed the door on a 2020 run.

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If she runs against Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), Democrats think they’d have a chance to win a Senate seat in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to the chamber in nearly two decades and loosen Republicans’ tight grip on the South.

“I hope she will get into that race,” Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenSenate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility USDA eases relocation timeline as researchers flee agency Fed to launch real-time payments system in 2023 MORE (D-Md.), the chairman of the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm in the 2018 cycle, told The Hill. “She really showed what a strong leader she was in her very close race for governor, and I think this evening she again showed her mettle and her spirit.”

Abrams’s State of the Union response gave her the largest national platform since narrowly losing Georgia’s hotly contested gubernatorial race in November.

In her speech, Abrams made appeals for unity and bipartisanship in what she described as “a time of division and crisis.”

She also took aim at Trump for sowing those divisions and orchestrating a partial government shutdown that left hundreds of thousands of federal employees without paychecks for weeks.

Trump shot back on Wednesday in his first public comments about Abrams since her rebuttal, calling her potential Senate bid against Perdue a “mistake.”

“I don’t think she can win,” Trump told regional reporters in an Oval Office interview on Wednesday, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

But the calls for Abrams, 45, to run for Senate have only amplified in recent weeks as Democrats see a path to taking back the upper chamber in 2020. Republicans have a 53-47 majority, and Democrats see their path to victory running through Georgia.

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Abrams would almost certainly enter the Senate race as a front-runner among Democrats. Her 2018 campaign for governor elevated her to national prominence and helped boost her name recognition in Georgia.

What’s more, she has already proven herself to be an adept fundraiser, having raked in more than $27 million for her gubernatorial bid. That fundraising ability will be vital to take on Perdue, who ended 2018 with roughly $1.7 million in his campaign coffers, according to his most recent federal filings.

Abrams made history last year as the first African-American woman to win a gubernatorial nomination for either major party. Her candidacy energized the increasingly diverse Democratic electorate that helped propel dozens of the party’s candidates to victories last year.

Despite her narrow loss to now-Gov. Brian Kemp (R) in November, Abrams has maintained a presence in politics. Shortly after as she ended her gubernatorial bid, she launched a new organization, Fair Fight Georgia, focused on fighting voter suppression. And last month, she announced a statewide “Thank You” tour.

Abrams and her allies accused Kemp, who oversaw the state’s elections as Georgia’s secretary of state while he was running for governor, of engaging in voter suppression. The Republican has vehemently denied that. And in her speech, Abrams addressed voter suppression head on, calling it the “next battle for our democracy.”

Abrams is expected to make a decision on her political future by the end of March — a decision eagerly awaited by many Democrats.

“It’s all anyone is talking about here: What is she going to do next?” Rebecca DeHart, the executive director of the Georgia Democratic Party, said. “I think the world is her oyster.”

“Will she run for governor? Will she run for Senate? Hell, I’d be happy if she ran for president,” DeHart added. “She’s got a heck of a decision in front of her.”

A few months ago, some Georgia Democrats believed Abrams was leaning in the direction of a gubernatorial rematch with Kemp in 2022.

But lately, they believe a Senate run is becoming more of a possibility.

“I think the things she wants to manage you do by being governor,” said DuBose Porter, a former chairman of the Georgia Democratic Party who was with Abrams Tuesday night in Atlanta for her rebuttal.

“I think as things have evolved, she certainly has the momentum. Every option is very much on the table now.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerAppropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid Colorado candidates vying to take on Gardner warn Hickenlooper they won't back down Trump ahead of New Hampshire speech: Lewandowski would be 'fantastic' senator MORE (D-N.Y.), who tapped Abrams to respond to the State of the Union, previously met with the Georgia Democrat last month about the Senate race in 2020.

She also separately met with Sen. Catherine Cortez MastoCatherine Marie Cortez MastoDemocrats press Trump Treasury picks on donor disclosure guidelines McConnell challenger faces tougher path after rocky launch The Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment MORE (D-Nev.), chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Hours before Abrams’s rebuttal on Tuesday, Sarah Riggs Amico, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in Georgia last year, launched a fundraising campaign on the website Crowdpac to raise money for a potential bid for higher office by Abrams.

“There’s no better time to let her know that we’ll support her if she runs again,” Riggs Amico wrote on the Crowdpac page. “That’s why I’m launching a campaign to draft Stacey Abrams to run for federal office in 2020. For what? I’ll leave that decision up to her.”

Changing demographics and an influx of new residents from the northeast and Midwest, especially in Atlanta and its suburbs, have nudged Georgia into more favorable territory for Democrats in recent years and fueled the party’s hopes of turning the state into a political battleground.

While Abrams fell short in the governor’s race, Democrats flipped one House seat in the Atlanta suburbs and came close to winning another in a neighboring district, highlighting how the evolving demographics and frustration for Trump in the suburbs has swayed traditionally Republican-leaning areas.

“Georgia is now a battleground state. With Abrams giving the response, that creates the possibility for a Senate run and shows that Georgia is in the pathway equation to 270,” said Tharon Johnson, a Democratic strategist based in Georgia.

Still, Georgia has a red streak and hasn’t sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 2000, when Zell Miller, a conservative Democrat, won election to finish the term of the late Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-Ga.). Two years later, Sen. Max Cleland (D) lost his seat to Perdue’s predecessor, Republican Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissHoekstra emerges as favorite for top intelligence post Republicans say Democrats holding up disaster relief as 'Sandy payback' Ex-House Intel chair: Intel panel is wrong forum to investigate Trump's finances MORE.

Perdue, 69, won a crowded GOP primary as a political outsider and was able to self-fund. The general election in 2014 captured national attention, but he defeated one of Democrats’ top recruits, nonprofit CEO Michelle Nunn, by an 8-point margin. Two years later, Trump went on to win Georgia by an even narrower 6-point margin.

Perdue, a businessman before his time in politics, has been a close ally of the president. Following Trump’s address, Perdue lauded his work over the past two years while also calling for “bipartisan solutions” to address health care, immigration and infrastructure.

“While we heard a positive message from President Trump, Democrats sat on their hands. There is a stark contrast between the positive results we’ve seen under President Trump and Democrats’ radical policies that have been proven to fail,” Perdue said in a Tuesday night statement.

Perdue has confirmed that he’s running for reelection in 2020 and said in a December interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he sees himself as “the outsider in the belly of the beast.”

Democrats have acknowledged that Perdue, whose cousin, Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueUSDA eases relocation timeline as researchers flee agency The Hill's Morning Report - How will Trump be received in Dayton and El Paso? USDA office move may have broken law, watchdog says MORE, is a former governor of Georgia, is an adept campaigner. And while Abrams will be able to win over base voters with a progressive record, she could risk alienating more moderate voters and independents who will be a crucial voter bloc in a general
election.

But local Democrats, like Rome City Commissioner Wendy Davis, argue that Abrams put together an unprecedented field program during her 2018 gubernatorial run.

Republicans blasted Abrams, arguing that she’s “trying to stay relevant” and is out of step with most Georgia voters.

“What Stacey Abrams fails to recognize is her radical views are in stark contrast to what the people of Georgia want, and getting the seal of approval from national Democrats like Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiAre Democrats turning Trump-like? Pelosi hits Trump, Netanyahu for 'weakness' amid tensions over Omar and Tlaib In Hong Kong, the need for peaceful persistence MORE and Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerAppropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid Colorado candidates vying to take on Gardner warn Hickenlooper they won't back down Trump ahead of New Hampshire speech: Lewandowski would be 'fantastic' senator MORE will only drive her even further from Georgians,” said a GOP strategist familiar with the Perdue campaign.

Reid Wilson contributed.