Teresa Tomlinson at Paschal's restaurant.

Courting black voters, Tomlinson vows to combat Perdue in GOP areas

Her voice rising, Henrietta Antonin recounted to the crowd that packed Paschal’s on Saturday about the time she first met Senate candidate Teresa Tomlinson.

“She was a white woman in my house with 15 black women,” she said. “I didn’t know her – I didn’t know anything about her. But she magnifies you. Before you know it, she magnifies you. Once she spoke – the broad is bad. All of those women in the room were mesmerized.”

Antonin and members of her “kitchen cabinet” – a small group of influential black women from Atlanta – were on hand Saturday to deliver a forceful endorsement of the former Columbus mayor’s campaign to unseat Republican Sen. David Perdue. 

Tomlinson’s event at Paschal’s, the famed restaurant with an historic role in the civil rights movement, was at once a fundraiser for her competitive Democratic race and a plea to black voters to rally behind her. 

There’s no well-financed African-American candidate in the race for Perdue’s seat, though several lesser-known black contenders intend to qualify for the May primary. That means Tomlinson and her two main rivals, all white, are competing for black voters who make up the bulk of the party’s base.

Sarah Riggs Amico, who ran for lieutenant governor in 2018, reminds voters of her alliance in that election with Stacey Abrams and her support for labor unions. And Jon Ossoff, the former 6th District candidate, has campaigned with U.S. Reps. Hank Johnson and John Lewis at events around the state.

(Perdue is one of two Republican incumbent senators on the ballot. Kelly Loeffler was appointed in December by Gov. Brian Kemp to the seat held by retired Sen. Johnny Isakson, and she faces challenges from both her right and her left in November’s election.)

Tomlinson, who recently rebooted her campaign after a staff shakeup, has taken a sharper approach to her rivals as the May primary nears. She delivered that argument to a crowd of more than 100 supporters, mostly women, on Saturday.

“If you want to beat an incumbent, as we are challenged to do, you must field somebody who has won hard-fought elections and who has governed and governed well,” she said Saturday. 

“I’m the only candidate in the Democratic field who fills that bill. ... I’m the only candidate who can stand on the stage with David Perdue and say, ‘Sir, I know what good government looks like because I have performed it.’”

‘I ain’t waiting’

At Saturday’s event, several African-American officials reinforced her message. 

Audrey Boone Tillman, an executive of Columbus-based Aflac, talked of how a “fearless” Tomlinson energized Columbus. Penny Brown Reynolds, a former state court judge, told the crowd that Tomlinson could unite women to challenge the “arrogance” of Perdue, a staunch ally of President Donald Trump.

And former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, perhaps Tomlinson’s most prominent supporter, described Tomlinson as ready to meet the moment. 

“What I’ve heard from this young lady and all of you, her friends, is that she’s ready to lift us up a little higher,” said Young. “We’re not sure exactly where that is, and she doesn’t have to predict.”

Then came Tomlinson, who promised to build a bridge between white and black women that reflects a “new democratic majority” before turning to Perdue and his recent vote to acquit Trump after the impeachment trial. 

“If they won’t exercise the Constitution, then we have to take it to the ballot box. This rally here today, what we’re saying to Sen. David Perdue is that you have failed us.” 

Her pitch to this crowd, and other Democrats, is that she’ll be a more formidable opponent to the first-term Republican because of her experience as the two-term mayor of Columbus and her appeal outside metro Atlanta. 

She promises to shave Republican margins in conservative strongholds and flip more competitive areas, particularly a ribbon of middle Georgia counties with large percentages of black voters. 

“There will be a day pretty soon when turning out in Atlanta is enough, in 2030 or 2034 if the projections hold up. But I ain’t waiting until 2030. We’re going to do it right now,” she said. “We’re taking this fight straight to central Georgia.”

More recent AJC 2020 stories:

Georgia donors pour millions into 2020 hopefuls’ campaigns

Loeffler vs. Collins fight sets off dash for GOP support

THE JOLT: Joe Biden has a big head start in Georgia

Tomlinson says of her Senate Democratic rivals — ‘this isn’t their race’

Analysis: Michael Bloomberg woos DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.