Stacey Abrams chose to end her gubernatorial campaign the way she ran it: by bucking conventional wisdom. Where other losing candidates have been subdued and conciliatory, she was defiant and bold.
Traditionally, when a candidate ends a bid for office, it comes with a speech praising the winner and calling for unity. Abrams acknowledged as much as she spoke Friday evening with dozens of staff members and supporters at her back. And she knew her critics would have wanted her to say nice things about Republican Brian Kemp, but she didn’t feel comfortable giving that kind of speech.
“They can complain that I should not use this moment to recap what was done wrong or to demand a remedy,” she said. “You see as a leader, I should be stoic in my outrage and silent in my rebuke. But stoicism is a luxury, and silence is a weapon for those who would quiet the voices of the people. And I will not concede because the erosion of our democracy is not right.”
The Democrat wished Kemp well and said she will pray for his success as Georgia’s governor. But she also blasted his tenure as secretary of state and promised to remain vocal on the issues of election reform and voter suppression.
DuBose Porter, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, said Abrams’ speech falls in line with what she has demonstrated over a two-year run for the governor’s office.
“The kind of campaign she ran and the kind of person she is to fight for everyone, this is exactly what she needed to do and exactly what she ought to do,” Porter said. “We know there are problems in the former secretary of state’s office.”
Porter echoed the sentiments of Abrams and other Democrats who believe Kemp’s actions in office and his refusal to step down allowed him to influence the outcome of the election.
“It was shoddy and it’s shameful, but it was done — no doubt on purpose — to put him here where he is,” Porter said. “It’s not right; as a state we’re better than that.”
Abrams was correct in predicting that some Republicans would be infuriated by her refusal to concede. State Sen. Josh McKoon, long an outspoken critic of Abrams, called her speech “shocking.”
“You expect some things in the rough and tumble of a campaign to be said, but the campaign is now over,” said McKoon, who ran unsuccessfully for secretary of state.
“It’s two things: It’s sour grapes. But even worse than that, it’s really about gaining some political advantage,” he said. “She’s obviously preparing to run for another race. She showed this evening that she lacks the maturity to lead.”
State House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, added a veiled insult of Abrams as he commended Kemp for the “patience and class he has demonstrated throughout this ordeal.”
“I only wish that others would have chosen to conduct themselves in a similar fashion,” he said.
Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review magazine, compared Abrams unfavorably with an Arizona Republican who conceded in a U.S. Senate race even before all votes were counted.
“Stacey Abrams has failed the Martha McSally test,” he wrote on Twitter. “Will any of the same commentators who praised McSally’s grace upbraid Abrams for a lack of it?”
Still, among Abrams’ supporters there was widespread praise for the speech.
“The election may have ended, but Stacey Abrams ignited a fire in the hearts of Georgia voters,” said state Sen. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta. “White supremacy is alive and well in the Deep South, and as a black woman state senator, I am reminded of that every single day. This is not just about one election. It’s about the systematic disenfranchisement of black voters.”
U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., posted a picture of herself and Abrams on Twitter with these words: “Stacey Abrams ran an incredible campaign focused on lifting up every Georgian. She inspired millions of Americans across the country. I can’t wait to see what she does next.”
Although he has been critical in the past, President Donald Trump complimented Abrams in a tweet late Friday where he also congratulated Kemp.
“Stacey Abrams fought brilliantly and hard — she will have a terrific political future!” Trump wrote.
Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at ajc.com/politics.
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