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Abrams takes aim at Republicans and a ‘paralyzing fear of complacency’  

Stacey Abrams delivered one of her sharpest attacks on Republicans this general election campaign, energizing a crowd of more than 1,000 at the party’s state convention on Saturday with a vow to fight “cheap politics.” 

The Democrat, who faces Republican Brian Kemp in the November race for governor, nodded toward her opponent’s mantra of “putting Georgia first” to highlight her plan to put Georgia values first.  

“My story is our story. This is a Georgia that no matter how tough things get, our core beliefs in faith and family and service never waver,” said Abrams, who was once the state House’s top Democrat. 

Although Abrams never mentioned Kemp by name, she took several swipes at the secretary of state’s record. She criticized the “antiquated computers that may be running our elections” and invoked his provocative TV ads to press for new gun restrictions. 

“We will proudly demand responsible gun ownership in the state of Georgia,” she said. “We are going to be a state where those who exercise their right to bear arms will know we don’t point our guns at children, and we arm our teachers with resources and not with .45s.” 

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Abrams heaped praise on the other candidates seeking to flip statewide seats long held by Republicans, saying that the “most dynamic slate of Democrats in a generation” has a something-for-everyone appeal. She repeated her pledge to eliminate cash bail to stop “criminalizing the poor” and promised to end a $100 million program that funnels tax dollars to private schools. 

As for the “religious liberty” legislation, she said she would be the governor to “put it into the grave a final time.” 

“Republicans have failed us in too many ways, and they are pledging to continue their failure. And most egregiously they have put their cheap politics ahead of our lives.”

She left the audience with a plea to reject worries that she stands little chance of winning in a state where Republicans control every statewide office and commanding majorities in the Legislature. 

“We have to fight old and new enemies in this campaign. We have to fight trickery and complacency,” she said. “And worse, we have to fight the paralyzing fear that comes with the promise of hope. But we know it is possible.”

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Hundreds of Democrats gathered in Atlanta on Saturday for the state party convention to hear from leading candidates for state office and solidify a November election strategy. 

Democrats are testing a more liberal comeback strategy that’s shifted the party’s philosophy away from decades of centrist appeals, hoping that a progressive approach can reverse Republican gains that have steadily consolidated power in Georgia.

At the top of the ticket is Stacey Abrams, the party’s nominee for governor who aims to win back the state’s top office for the first time in 16 years by more aggressively backing gun control, increasing state spending and embracing other policies once sidelined by top contenders. 

Republicans held their own version of this party-wide pep rally shortly after the bruising July runoff, pledging support behind GOP nominee Brian Kemp and the slate of candidates down the ticket. They highlighted the state’s economic growth and warned Abrams could bring a “march to socialism.” 

Join us below for live updates of the event: 

4:20 p.m: Republicans have tried to brand Abrams as a “radical” since she announced her campaign for governor. Sarah Riggs Amico, the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor, tried to counter that narrative.

She talked of her support for expanding Medicaid and boosting the economy – and steered clear of divisive social issues. 

“These are not radical beliefs,” she said. “They’re beliefs I’ve heard from people in every corner of the state. Now is our time. We need you to carry the courage of your convictions to the ballot box.” 

4 p.m. Fred Swann added a twist near the end of his usual stump speech. The party’s nominee for agricultural commissioner revealed he and his children were recently diagnosed with autism. 

“That’s why I’m committed to growing agriculture but also bringing all types of other farmers into the fold,” he said. “I’ll fight for apprenticeships and training programs, including those geared toward people dealing with autism.”

He faces Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black in November.

Fred Swann is Democratic nominee for agriculture commissioner. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM) (Alyssa Pointer)

3:45 p.m. We have our first mention of Georgia’s bid to land Amazon’s second headquarters, a pursuit that will require billions of dollars in incentives from both city and state governments. 

It came from Otha Thornton, the Democratic nominee for superintendent.“If we can find $1 billion to fund one company to come to Georgia, we can find a few hundred million dollars to fund wraparound services for our students,” he said.

That’s a reference to Democratic calls to finance more community-based services at schools in areas struggling with poverty.

“If we Democrats aren’t on the table in November, we’ll be on the menu for the next four years.”

3:10 p.m.: It was time for two of the highest-profile Democrats to take the stage. 

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson nodded to the intensifying investigation into whether he violated campaign laws or benefited from Russian interference.

“One way or the other, it looks like something big is about to go down,” he said. “And his name is Donald Trump.”

And U.S. Rep. John Lewis told partisans not to buy into talk that Abrams and other Democrats have no fighting chance. 

“Don’t let anybody tell us you cannot do it. Because early voting is around the corner. Vote early – not often, but early,” he said. “Your vote is powerful. It is the most precious and most powerful nonviolent tool we have in democratic society. And we must use it.”

Lucy McBath speaks during the Georgia Democratic Convention on Saturday, August 25, 2018. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM) (Alyssa Pointer)

2:30 p.m. Now comes Jason Carter, a former state senator who was the party’s 2014 nominee for governor. 

Carter, the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn, got a warm reception when he said his grandparents were in good health and better spirits. 

The Atlanta attorney is now helping to lead the party’s coordinated campaign with Abrams. And he said he’s jazzed about his new role. 

“Our doors are open, our party is open, our hearts are open to everyone,” he said. “The statewide ticket from top to bottom is a remarkable group of people.”

He talked of the November election in sweeping terms. 

“At this moment in our history, with the awful politics on the other side, the best way to combat that is to do this work not just to win - but because it is the work of democracy, the work of bringing people into our system.”

Noon: The party’s slate of challengers for Republican-held U.S. House seats got a hero’s welcome from Democratic delegates. 

Well, almost all of them. 

Among those candidates missing from the stage was Steven Foster, a longshot contender for a north Georgia district who was recently convicted of DUI charges

The Democrats aiming for the two most competitive seats – a pair of districts representing fast-changing north Atlanta suburbs – both revved up the crowd with promises of expanding Medicaid and fighting Republican policies.

First up was Lucy McBath, a former Delta flight attendant who became a nationally-known gun control advocate after her son was murdered in Florida. She blasted the package of $1.5 trillion in tax cuts supported by Republican Rep. Karen Handel, who represents the territory covering parts of Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties. 

“It’s fiscally irresponsible and most definitely hurts Georgia taxpayers,” said McBath, who added: “We’re all in this ship now. Let’s ride this blue wave until the end.” 

Next came Carolyn Bourdeaux, who is targeting a neighboring Gwinnett-based district held by Rep. Rob Woodall. 

She got a burst of applause when she highlighted the need for transit to extend to Gwinnett, and slammed the White House as “racist, sexist and isolationist.” 

“Some day, our children and grandchildren will come to us and say, ‘What did you do in 2018 when the stakes were so high?’” she said. “And I know you will want to say, ‘We fought the fight for the country we believe in.’”

The loudest ovation, though, came for Francys Johnson, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Rick Allen in an Augusta-based district. He thrilled the crowd with mentions of James Brown and Aretha Franklin, then calling himself the “hardest working man” in politics.

Delegates cheer during the Georgia Democratic Convention in Atlanta, Saturday, August 25, 2018. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM) (Alyssa Pointer)

10:30 a.m. Rev. Raphael Warnock kicked off the convention with a fiery invocation that pitted the election in Biblical terms. 

“This fight isn’t about what’s left and what’s right, what’s Democratic or Republican but what’s right and wrong. We have a choice to make, our state has a choice to make in this hour,” said Warnock, who pastors Martin Luther King Jr.’s church. 

“We are dealing with spiritual wickedness, the cosmic power of this present darkness. We are dealing with systemic injustice and spiritual sickness,” he added. 

He got a rousing ovation when he touted the decision Friday by Randolph County to abandon a proposal to close seven of nine polling precincts months before the November election. The plan sparked national outrage and energized Democrats who said it was a tactic to depress turnout in a majority-black county.

“When we fight, we win,” said Warnock, a possible contender for U.S. Senate in 2020. “I’m glad that Mr. Kemp was on the right side of the Randolph County issue, but make no mistake about it: He is the poster child of voter suppression.”

 

About the Author

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

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