OPINION: Stacey Abrams left it all on the field but won’t walk away empty-handed

Credit: CBS

Credit: CBS

Weep not for Stacey Abrams. She’ll do just fine going forward.

Last week, her campaign manager, Lauren Groh-Wargo fired off a 52-part Twitter bomb saying the woman-who-shoulda-been-governor left it “all out on the field” for Team Dem in the 2020 elections and had nothing left in the tank for her own rematch against Gov. Brian Kemp.

The tweets deflected Abrams’ responsibility in her loss and left Democrats with a bad taste.

“It was bad form,” one told me, mirroring what many others said. Almost all did not want to use their names because Abrams and Groh-Wargo are still El Jefes in Georgia.

“It comes a few days after Warnock has a great victory,” he said. “They didn’t give him a chance to celebrate. It was sour grapes, very curious.”

The 2022 Abrams-Kemp rematch had none of the cliff-hanging excitement of the 2018 election and ended up a blowout, one that helped drag down the entire Democratic ticket.*

The * in this year’s race was U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, who ran a very different race than Abrams, appealing to moderates, and was the only Democrat to win statewide. Warnock ran a solid campaign, helped by a Brinks truck full of out-of-state money. But he also benefitted running against a uniquely terrible candidate foisted upon Georgia’s voters by none other than Donald Trump.

In fact, Trump excels at mobilizing (Democratic) voters and is probably as big a factor of Democratic success in the past four years in Georgia as Stacey Abrams.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

In the fall of 2021, Abrams’s intentions for a rematch with Governor Shotgun were still a mystery. There were questions: Will she run? Or won’t she?

I figured she wouldn’t. The downside dwarfed the upside.

Abrams knew 2022 would be an uphill fight. In 2018, it was an open seat, a midterm election with the wind at the Democrats’ backs and Kemp was being portrayed as buffoonish due to his silly ads.

But now, Kemp was an incumbent governor and even though some conservatives complained that he was a Trump-hating RINO, he still controlled the levers to state government and Georgia’s GOP machine.

After her tight 2018 loss, Abrams became a celebrity, the candidate who had the governorship stolen from her. She was considered for vice president in 2020 and wanted to be president by 2040. She even did a caped cameo on “Star Trek: Discovery,” where she was Madam President of United Earth.

In short, she became a star and a millionaire, having fortified her sad financial situation in four years. She’s now worth more than $3 million, with book deals and speeches. Her longtime friend, Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, has also cashed in, big time. Lawrence-Hardy’s small law firm received $9.4 million from Abrams’ group, Fair Fight Action, in 2019 and 2020, as the organization waged a lawsuit on election law, according to Politico. Also, tax filings for 2021 and 2022, when much more legal work was conducted, have not been compiled.

So why would Abrams return for a rematch with Kemp knowing there’s a healthy possibility of becoming a two-time loser with the luster scrubbed away?

Well, there was a sense of duty, I suppose. (She has not spoken publicly since her loss last month. I did call.) Also, not returning would have dented her legacy. It would not be a good look for Madam President of United Earth to duck a fight.

Groh-Wargo’s Twittering made it seem Abrams created Warnock out of whole cloth. In 2019, she said, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer lobbied hard for Abrams to run for Senate, but she declined and proposed Warnock. Granted, he was a political neophyte but, as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Warnock was already on solid footing.

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

The plan, Groh-Wargo wrote, was for Abrams to quickly endorse Warnock after he announced his run, thereby scaring off any other Democrats. Since Warnock was a newbie, they’d come to the rescue with donor lists, staffers and campaign “infrastructure.” Voila! Warnock survived the 2020 Senate race and, thanks to Trump, won a runoff in January 2021.

Warnock had to run again this year, although there was not much cross-pollination between the Warnock and Abrams campaigns. In fact, during Warnock’s acceptance speech last week, he thanked a lot of people — just not Abrams. He thanked his top aide Lawrence Bell, “who had this crazy idea that I should run for Senate.”

One wonders if there is some lingering bad blood between the campaigns.

This time, Abrams’ campaign reminded me of a fighter stepping into the ring, knowing they were in for a shellacking.

One longtime Democratic elected official told me “what Groh-Wargo said was not untrue, but it was horribly ill-timed.”

He mentioned the common complaint about Abrams being insular. “The only people who don’t like Stacey are those who know her,” he said. “Now we have to go back and rebuild the bridges of those who felt isolated or pushed away.”

Another Democrat, who does like Abrams, said there’s no question she built a ground game that has helped the party the past four years and has poised it for future success. (Although that “future” has largely remained out of reach.)

“Stacey has run an insular operation,” she said. “When people complain, I say, ‘Look where it got us, Sweet Pea, it works.’”