Oprah Winfrey (right) and Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams greet a crowd gathered for a town hall conversation at the Cobb Civic Center's Jennie T. Anderson Theatre in Marietta, Thursday, November 1, 2018. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

Winfrey sees ‘chance to make history’ in campaigning for Abrams in Ga.

Oprah Winfrey said she decided to travel to Georgia because of a chance to make history. She had been watching the gubernatorial campaign from afar and decided three days ago to offer support to Democrat Stacey Abrams.

“Nobody paid for me to come here,” she said to a cheering crowd during the morning stop in Cobb County. “No one even asked me to come here. I paid for myself, and I approve this message.”

There were no warmup acts or opening speeches at two events, campaign rallies that also had elements of the one-on-one interviews that made Winfrey a media icon. Between events at the Anderson Theatre in Marietta and Porter Sanford Performing Arts Center in Decatur, Winfrey also joined campaign volunteers in knocking on doors.

She started out on each stage alone in front of an audience of several hundred. Winfrey explained that she decided to endorse Abrams because of her stances on Medicaid expansion, protecting the environment and gun control. She also stressed the importance of voting, particularly for African-Americans and women who once faced disenfranchisement.

Not casting a ballot would be disrespectful to her ancestors, she said. “I refuse to let their sacrifices be in vain.”

Winfrey avoided direct references to President Donald Trump or Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp, but she did make overtures to white women whose support could sway the election. She asked them to vote their conscience and remember that they, too, once faced oppression.

“White women, listen to me,” she said. “There was a time when you couldn’t even own a piece of property without your daddy saying you could.”

Before bringing Abrams out in Marietta, Winfrey addressed rumors that her visit to Georgia was an indication that she may soon launch a campaign of her own. Not happening, she said.

“I’m not here because I’m making some grandstand (move) because I’m thinking about running myself,” Winfrey said. “I don’t want to run. I’m not trying to test any waters.”

The women later embraced on the stage. Winfrey noted that they were two “girls from Mississippi,” but Abrams said it felt surreal.

“I’m having a little out-of-body experience,” she said. “But it’s fun. It’s awesome.”

Winfrey, plus a few members of the audience, asked Abrams questions that allowed her to dig into her platform on topics such as funding for public education and transportation. But they also touched on more personal subjects, including Abrams’ debts that have been used as fodder on the campaign trail.

The candidate told Winfrey that sometimes it was hard not to feel discouraged.

“My parents are pastors, and sometimes they have had to pray for me,” Abrams said. “… When you know who you are and know whose you are, it is hard having someone tell a lie about you. It is difficult to meet meanness with kindness.”

On a lighter note, Abrams talked about cooking — chicken Romano and risotto — and her writing career. She has penned romance novels using a pseudonym. Abrams said she started writing in college after a difficult breakup and enjoys creating characters who face dangerous twists and turns.

“I love reading,” she said. “I love writing. I love storytelling. … Those who survive it fall in love.”

She surprised Winfrey by saying that she watches a lot of TV despite her busy schedule, including the “Greenleaf” drama that airs on Winfrey’s OWN cable network.

At the Decatur event, Winfrey decided to pose a question to Robert Abrams, the candidate’s father. She asked whether he was surprised that she was a major-party candidate for governor.

“Stacey was born to be president,” he responded. “She will be governor. There is no doubt in my mind.”

“Let’s get her governor before we move on to president,” Winfrey quipped.

OUR REPORTING

It’s a busy election year, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is keeping the spotlight on the leading candidates for governor, Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams. Recent AJC stories have examined Kemp’s finances and Abrams’ position while in the state Legislature as a leading collector of per diem. Look for more at ajc.com/politics as the state heads for the general election on Nov. 6.

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