Campaign

Democrats anxious over Abrams silence on Georgia governor bid

Democrats are growing anxious about when - and even whether - Stacey Abrams will enter the 2022 race for Georgia governor as the party sets its sights on capturing a statewide office that narrowly eluded them less than four years ago.

Party operatives almost universally believe that Abrams will end up running. But her continued silence on her plans has some worried that a late entrance into the race could hamper the party's hopes of victory next year.

At the same time, Abrams's dominance among Georgia Democrats has left the party without a clear alternative in the event that she passes on another gubernatorial campaign. No other Democrat has jumped into the race, and those who are interested are waiting to see what Abrams does first.

"I think she still has a little bit of time," one Democratic strategist said. "The minute she announces, she is automatically the candidate to beat. The problem is, I think that keeps everything in kind of a holding pattern when we really need to be aggressive and proactive in Georgia."

Earlier this month, DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond, a former state legislator and labor commissioner, conceded that he was interested in a potential bid for governor. But he also made clear that he would not challenge Abrams for the Democratic nomination if she decides to run.

"I'm always interested. Listen, hope springs eternal in every political heart, right?" he said on Georgia Public Broadcasting's "Political Rewind."

But, he added, "Stacey has earned the right to challenge Brian Kemp. She ran a great race four years ago. There were questions about the administration of the election, and she has a right to make a decision and to challenge him, and I'm going to respect that."

While she's stayed relatively quiet about her plans for 2022, Abrams hasn't stepped away from public life. She remains among the most sought-after endorsers among Democrats nationally and stumped for Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic nominee for Virginia governor, in late October, just days before the state's off-year elections.

She's also thrown herself into Democratic-led efforts to pass a slew of voting rights measures after GOP-controlled legislatures in several states moved to enact controversial election laws that include new restrictions on the voting process.

"I think she's continuing to build the needed and necessary infrastructure for a campaign, even if she's not saying it outright," one Abrams ally said. "Not to mention she's added a number of allies and partners through her work, and I think that only enhances her ability to get across the finish line first this time."

There are a few things giving Democrats solace. For one, if Abrams ultimately decides to run, it's unlikely that she will face any serious primary opposition, sparing Democrats the kind of bruising nominating contest that party leaders dread.

And unlike her last bid for Georgia governor when she announced her campaign nearly a year and a half before Election Day 2018, Abrams has near-universal name recognition, not only in Georgia, but nationally, meaning she won't have to spend months introducing herself to voters next year.

"The big difference is people didn't know Stacey Abrams as much then as they do now," said Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist. "She's put together a campaign infrastructure that, the minute she says yes, it's ready to go. It's a different picture from the first time around."

Still, Seawright said, it's important that Democrats know soon whether she will run or not.

"I do think her making the decision sooner rather than later will bring much more clarity," he said. "If for whatever reason she decides not to run, someone else is going to have to step in and put together the infrastructure she needs to be competitive."

Meanwhile, Republicans are staring down the possibility of a divisive gubernatorial primary of their own. Former President Trump has vowed to campaign against Kemp next year, still angry that the Georgia governor refused his pleas to overturn his loss in the state in 2020.

One potential Republican heavyweight, former Sen. David Perdue, is said to be considering a primary challenge to Kemp and has discussed the idea with state Republican officials and donors. What's more, Perdue remains on Trump's good side and would likely be seen as the former president's top choice to challenge Kemp if he decides to run.

Democrats have also grown increasingly bullish about their prospects in Georgia in recent years, encouraged by Abrams's narrow loss to Kemp in 2018, President Biden's victory in the state in 2020 and Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock's dual wins in a pair of runoff elections earlier this year.

Abrams also remains a relatively popular figure in Georgia. A poll released in May by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found her favorability rating above water at 48 percent to 45 percent. Kemp's favorability rating, on the other hand, was slightly underwater at 44 percent to 47 percent.

Yet Democrats are facing a much more hostile political landscape in 2022 than they have in recent years. Unlike 2018, Democrats now control the White House and both chambers of Congress, and midterm elections are typically seen as a referendum on the party in power. Seawright said that those headwinds would almost certainly weigh on Abrams's approach to the governor's race.

"It's going to affect the type of campaign she'll have to run," Seawright said. "Time is of the essence and based on what the feeling is now, we probably don't have the luxury of time. It's not an easy decision but it's one that has to be made sooner rather than later."

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