EXCLUSIVE: Trump on Stacey Abrams running for U.S. Senate: ‘I don’t think she can win’

President Donald Trump was dismissive about the future political prospects of former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, saying in an Oval Office interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday that the Democrat could not defeat incumbent U.S. Sen. David Perdue in a statewide battle.

Hours after Abrams delivered a well-received rebuttal to Trump's State of the Union address on behalf of the Democratic Party, Trump said it would be a "mistake" for Abrams to run against Perdue, one of his top Georgia allies, in 2020.

“I think it’s a mistake for her to run against him because I don’t think she can win,” the president told the AJC and a group of regional reporters in a wide-ranging exclusive interview.

“David Perdue is an incredible senator, if you remember, and will be very hard to beat,” he added.

Top Democrats have been feverishly courting Abrams to run against Perdue, a first-term Republican and former Fortune 500 CEO. If she enters the race, it would instantly become a blockbuster contest that could help determine control of the U.S. Senate.

A political novice when he announced his 2014 Senate bid, Perdue leveraged his deep pockets and famous last name -- former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue is his first cousin -- to defeat Democrat Michelle Nunn by nearly 8 percentage points. And he was an early acolyte of Trump, who ultimately carried Georgia by 5 percentage points in 2016. He's been quietly laying the groundwork for his reelection battle for the better part of a year.

Read more: Inside David Perdue's 2020 race for another U.S. Senate term

Abrams has met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer about challenging Perdue has given herself a March deadline to announce whether she'll seek the seat. Other leading Democratic candidates for the position have essentially deferred to Abrams - or openly called for her to enter the race.

“I am running for office again,” Abrams recently told supporters. “I don’t know for what.”

Fresh off her rebuttal speech, Abrams on Wednesday aimed to capitalize on the publicity. Her Fair Fight Action voting rights group sent out several fundraising pitches to supporters and touted its work on social media.

And she announced three more stops on a “thank you” tour that kicked off last month in Albany – the same town where she launched her campaign for governor. On Thursday she’ll greet supporters in Savannah, followed by a Monday trip to Gwinnett. And in March she’s planning an Atlanta event.

Abrams narrowly lost last year’s gubernatorial race to Republican Brian Kemp and refused to formally concede the race, citing what she saw as systematic voting issues and Kemp’s refusal to step down as secretary of state ahead of the election. She’s since launched Fair Fight Action to carry her message and challenge GOP policies in court and joined a D.C. think tank.

Tuesday’s prime-time address -- by far the biggest stage of her career -- was seen as a way of introducing Abrams to a national audience.

Her performance on Tuesday evening, in which she described her own working class background and detailed how she worked across the aisle in the Georgia Legislature, won praise from prominent Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Vice President Joe Biden, and even prompted some calls for her to run for president.

Read more: Who could challenge Sen. David Perdue in 2020

Abrams is unlikely to run for the position in 2020. She’s done none of the early-state groundwork of other likely Democratic candidates, and her aides and allies say she’s focused on a potential run for Senate or perhaps a 2022 rematch against Kemp.

Trump smiled when asked about the prospect of Abrams making a White House run and took a dig at her and other Democrats before reminiscing about his own ascent to the presidency.

“I’d love for her to run for president,” he said of Abrams. “Why? Because so far I’m liking the candidates and she’d be another one I’d like. To run for president you’re supposed to have won, unless you’re a non-politician like me. I’d never ran. I’m one for one.”

Abrams has been on Trump’s radar for quite some time. Ahead of Election Day, Trump told reporters that the former Georgia House minority leader was “not qualified” to be governor and warned at a rally in Macon that she would turn Georgia “into Venezuela.”

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article. 

Read more: Abrams makes case for consensus, voting rights in rebuttal to Trump