U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and Stacey Abrams pose before a campaign event. Image provided by campaign.

National forces help shape Georgia governor’s race 

The cheers from more than 100 supporters spiked when U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris took the stage with a simple message about Stacey Abrams: “Make sure she wins.”

The California Democrat’s Friday appearance made her the latest of a string of national figures trying to shape the May 22 primary for Georgia governor. 

Each hopes the attention, energy and campaign cash that accompanies each endorsement gives them an extra advantage in a heated race that features two Democrats and five Republicans.

To rev up enthusiasm in the final stretch, former state Sen. Hunter Hill rolled out the endorsement of U.S. Sen Ted Cruz, a former presidential hopeful - and left open the possibility of a campaign visit.

Another GOP contender, state Sen. Michael Williams, has emphasized support from Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone to try to gain traction.

And Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, the GOP frontrunner, highlights the backing of the NRA, the pro-gun lobby that rewarded him after he orchestrated the defeat of a tax break for Delta Air Lines when it cut ties with the group.

But no candidate has embraced outside support as much as Abrams, a former Georgia House Democratic leader who faces ex-state Rep. Stacey Evans in next week’s vote.

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and Stacey Abrams pose before a campaign event. Image provided by campaign.

And for Democrats, the out-of-state support could hold risk: Jon Ossoff was branded as a creature of San Francisco last year when he collected the broad majority of his campaign cash from outside Georgia. Jason Carter was tied relentlessly to “Chicago style politics” in the 2014 campaign against Gov. Nathan Deal even though he’s spent his adult life in Georgia.  

Abrams has won the lion’s share of endorsements from national groups, including Emily’s List and Democracy for America, along with prominent local groups. Roughly two-thirds of her campaign cash has come from outside the state, even as her in-state donations have roughly kept pace with her rival. 

Evans has responded by focusing on local endorsements - and digging deeper into her own wallet. She recently pumped another $200,000 of her own cash into the race, bringing the total to $1.7 million. While Harris and Abrams campaigned together on Friday in Atlanta, Evans held a lower-key rally in Valdosta.

For Abrams, the national emphasis has been central to her campaign. A California-based philanthropist has pledged to spend $2.5 million to boost her campaign. She’s visited major cities in recent weeks to promote her newly-released memoir. 

And she’s attracted support from U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey – who, like Harris, is a potential presidential candidate – and ex-Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

The biggest splash, though, came from a visit by four actresses who drew a crowd of hundreds to an Abrams campaign event on April 30 as early voting kicked off. 

Harris followed up Friday with a visit to the same venue, telling the crowd that Abrams “walks her talk in understanding the problems most Americans have - getting through the end of the month.” 

“Electing her to be the governor of the state of Georgia will be an incredibly important statement about who we are as Americans,” she said. “It will demonstrate we have so much more in common than what separates us.”

Asked about the outside influence on Friday, Abrams said the sharper edge it offered her was worth any potential blowback.  

“It’s giving me a broad platform to talk about issues that matter to all Georgians,” she said. “This is a local campaign that has national implications. We are locally grounded and nationally known.”

Read more recent AJC coverage of the campaign for governor:

Shifting political ground pushes Georgia candidates away from center  

Abrams, Evans sharpen attacks over HOPE in gov forum  

Georgia 2018: Evans bets on gambling as new divide in gov race  

Abrams banks on debt as advantage in final stretch of gov race  

Brian Kemp: His pitch to conservatives leans hard on law and order  

Clay Tippins: Executive aims to send waves through governor’s race  

Michael Williams: Senator has been Trump backer with similar tactics  

Why Georgia Republicans are shifting to the right on guns  

Hunter Hill: Military vet wages running war on ‘career politicians’  

Casey Cagle: A GOP favorite tries to fend off conservative attack  

How Gov. Deal is shaping the race to succeed him  

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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.