Capitol Recap: Stacey Abrams launches bid for Georgia governor

Democrat Stacey Abrams announced that she is running for governor of Georgia in next year's election.
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Democrat Stacey Abrams announced that she is running for governor of Georgia in next year's election.

Credit: Nathan Posner

Credit: Nathan Posner

Race for Governor’s Mansion could be rematch of 2018 contest

Stacey Abrams did what she was expected to do: She announced in a video that she’s running for governor.

It seemed likely ever since the Democrat lost the 2018 race to Republican Brian Kemp by less than 1.4 percentage points, the tightest contest Georgia had seen for the Governor’s Mansion in decades.

She said then that she would not concede, although she did acknowledge that Kemp would be “certified as the victor.”

Abrams has been busy ever since then.

First, she formed Fair Fight, a voting rights group and potent fundraiser that has collected more than $100 million since its inception in 2018. It recently hit the airwaves with an attack on Kemp’s refusal to expand Medicaid.

Here are a few other additions to her resume:

Abrams also took care of a matter that became an issue in the 2018 campaign. She paid off the roughly $54,000 she owed to the Internal Revenue Service, along with other credit card and student loan debt.

In her announcement, Abrams appeared to be test-driving a new “one Georgia” theme.

“Regardless of the pandemic or the storms, the obstacles in our way or the forces determined to divide us, my job has been to just put my head down and keep working toward one Georgia,” she said. “Because in the end, we are one Georgia.”

Now it’s up to Kemp to see whether there’s a rematch in 2022. He has to get through the GOP primary.

At the moment, his most serious declared challenger on the GOP side is former state Rep. Vernon Jones, a onetime Democrat.

But a potentially bigger threat exists.

Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue is weighing a challenge, and while he has said nothing publicly about running, the noises coming from within his circle indicate a campaign machine is warming up its engine. If Perdue runs, he’ll certainly have an endorsement the governor can’t get: one from former President Donald Trump, who has been feuding with Kemp while remaining popular with the state’s Republican base.

Trump and his loyalists have vowed to exact revenge on Kemp after he refused to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia. The former president — whose endorsement of Kemp in 2018 helped him win the GOP primary runoff over then-Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle — has gone so far as to suggest during a September rally in Perry that he would have preferred Abrams as governor.

Kemp responded to Abrams’ announcement with a statement that — with the exception of a mention about Joe Biden — could have easily come from his 2018 playbook.

“Next November’s election for governor is a battle for the soul of our state,” Kemp said. “I’m in the fight against Stacey Abrams, the failed Biden agenda and their woke allies to keep Georgia the best place to live, work and raise a family.”

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Gov. Brian Kemp picked up an endorsement for his reelection bid from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce after the group chose not to take sides in the governor's race four years ago. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Gov. Brian Kemp picked up an endorsement for his reelection bid from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce after the group chose not to take sides in the governor's race four years ago. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
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Gov. Brian Kemp picked up an endorsement for his reelection bid from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce after the group chose not to take sides in the governor's race four years ago. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Georgia Chamber supports Kemp after neutral stance in 2018

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce did something it wouldn’t do in 2018: It backed a candidate for governor.

The powerful business lobby endorsed Gov. Brian Kemp’s reelection bid, four years after it chose to support neither him nor Democrat Stacey Abrams.

In 2018, a number of the state’s top business leaders were reassessing their positions after supporting Kemp’s unsuccessful opponent in the GOP runoff, then-Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.

So instead of endorsing a candidate, the chamber gave both Kemp and Abrams a chance to speak at a luncheon.

This time, in announcing its support for Kemp, the chamber cited the state’s low unemployment rates and his aggressive approach to reopening the economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

“His positive working relationships with the business community and with organizations like the Georgia Chamber have paved the way for tremendous growth in our state over the last three years, making Georgia the envy of the nation,” said the chamber’s chief executive, Chris Clark.

Of course, if retired U.S. Sen. David Perdue runs and beats Kemp in the GOP primary, the chamber’s members may once again have to reassess their positions.

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A new super PAC says it will supply "air cover" to support Herschel Walker's ground game in his bid for the U.S. Senate. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

Credit: NYT

A new super PAC says it will supply "air cover" to support Herschel Walker's ground game in his bid for the U.S. Senate. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)
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A new super PAC says it will supply "air cover" to support Herschel Walker's ground game in his bid for the U.S. Senate. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

Credit: NYT

Credit: NYT

New super PAC to battle in trenches for Walker campaign

A new super PAC took the field this past week to support Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker.

The organization is called 34N22, combining the former University of Georgia running back’s uniform number with next year’s election date.

Walker has the highest profile of the four Republicans who are vying to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock. The others are state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, military veteran Kelvin King and Latham Saddler, a former Navy SEAL and official in the Trump administration.

Walker entered the race following the encouragement of former President Donald Trump. He faces some obstacles, though, including years of residency in Texas before recently returning to Georgia, plus a history of violent and erratic behavior.

The super PAC plans to finance grassroots canvassing operations, direct-mail leaflets and advertising to promote Walker’s campaign.

The group also appears fond of football jargon, starting with digital ads urging voters to “join Herschel’s huddle” and a website calling on Georgians not to “sit on the sideline.”

“34N22 looks forward to providing air support for Herschel Walker’s ground game to help deliver a big win for hardworking Georgians in 2022,” said the group’s spokesman, Stephen Lawson, formally a top deputy to then-U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler.

Keep on the lookout for claims that Walker will “tackle the tough issues” and “carry the ball into the end zone for tax relief.” Maybe it will all end on a “Hail Mary.”

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Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger testified for more than four hours this week before the U.S. House commission that is investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger testified for more than four hours this week before the U.S. House commission that is investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)
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Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger testified for more than four hours this week before the U.S. House commission that is investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Raffensperger testifies before Jan. 6 commission

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger spent more than four hours this past week testifying before the U.S. House commission investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.

Raffensperger didn’t say much afterward about what he told the panel. But he did say much of it involved his January phone call with Trump, when Raffensperger fended off the then-president’s request — some say demand — to “find” enough votes to overturn the results in Georgia’s presidential vote.

“We talked about that and everything else leading into the election. That was their focus, because that was where the greatest disinformation was foisted upon our nation,” said Raffensperger.

Raffensperger said the commission also had his book, “Integrity Counts,” to serve as a reference. In it, he said that during the phone call Trump tried to manipulate him and his general counsel, Ryan Germany, by telling them they were taking a “big risk” if they did not report purported fraud.

He also said that members of the committee, controlled by Democrats, “might not like everything I had to say.” He said he referred to a “history of stolen election claims” that included Stacey Abrams’ refusal to concede defeat in the 2018 governor’s race to Republican Brian Kemp, as well as discredited conspiracy theories from the 2016 election.

Unlike Trump, Abrams never tried to reverse her election defeat and instead filed litigation seeking to expand access to the ballot. The Democrat also acknowledged that Kemp had won the election.

The committee — through more than 40 subpoenas to a range of members within Trump’s circle, as well as interviews with others such as Raffensperger — has focused its probe on whether the then-president’s key allies coordinated an attempt to overturn the election that involved spurring rioters who stormed the Capitol and disrupted the congressional tally of Electoral College votes that certified Democrat Joe Biden’s victory.

Trump’s phone call to Raffensperger is also being reviewed by a Fulton County grand jury to consider whether to bring charges against the former president that could include criminal solicitation to commit election fraud, intentional interference with performance of election duties, conspiracy and racketeering.

At the time of the call, Georgia’s ballots in the 2020 election had been counted three times, twice by machine and once by hand. Dozens of investigations before and since have found no evidence of tampering to alter election results, as Trump and his supporters have claimed, and legal challenges have been dismissed.

2018 voter rights suit heads for trial in February

A lawsuit connected to the 2018 race for governor could go to trial as early as February, nine months before the next gubernatorial contest.

The voting rights organization Fair Fight Action filed the suit following Democrat Stacey Abrams’ loss to Republican Brian Kemp.

The trial, which could begin Feb. 7, will focus on “exact match” voter registration policies, allegations of voter roll inaccuracies and inconsistent absentee ballot cancellation after court rulings eliminated many of the other claims that Fair Fight made.

Fair Fight, which Abrams formed following her loss, will attempt to prove that the state’s voting practices infringe on fundamental rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Attorneys for the state have said Georgia’s voting practices are fair and nondiscriminatory, resulting in easy access to voting and record turnouts.

“Exact match” voter registration requires election officials to compare the information of new registrants with driver’s license and Social Security records. When there are inconsistencies, voters must verify their information before they can vote.

Evidence that U.S. District Judge Steve Jones cited in an earlier order shows that minority voters are six to 10 times more likely than white voters to be flagged by the “exact match” verification process.

Jones previously dismissed many of Fair Fight’s claims concerning registration cancellations, the number of voting machines in use, poll worker training and ballot rejections.

But the judge rejected the state’s effort to dismiss the entire case, allowing it to continue.

The lawsuit has already produced some results.

The state restored 22,000 voter registrations in late 2019 following court hearings over registration cancellations. There were still 287,000 registration cancellations that year of people who hadn’t voted since before 2012 or had moved away. An additional 101,000 voter registrations were canceled this summer.

McCormick faces questions over endorsement count

Rich McCormick, the emergency room physician who lost a narrow race last year to Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux in the 7th Congressional District, had planned to make another bid for the seat this year.

But then the General Assembly used redistricting to turn the neighboring 6th Congressional District into a more enticing spot for Republicans, so this week McCormick announced that would be his campaign destination.

But the transition didn’t go as smoothly as he had hoped.

While announcing his intentions for the 6th District, McCormick boasted that he had endorsements from 28 members of Congress.

His list included Georgia U.S. Reps. Rick Allen, Buddy Carter, Andrew Clyde, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Jody Hice.

It was only off by four.

Carter is the only GOP member of the state’s U.S. House delegation to back McCormick in the 6th District, where several other Republicans are already running.

Representatives for Allen, Clyde, Greene and Hice said that while they supported his campaign last year against Bourdeaux, they had not endorsed him for the 6th District’s GOP primary.

Responding to questions about the claimed endorsements, McCormick’s campaign issued this statement from the candidate:

“All of the names listed on the release offered their encouragement and support for my campaign in the 6th district. If their intent wasn’t a full public endorsement, I’ll own that mistake as they talked directly to me. As a Marine, we were taught to be clear and own your mistakes. I’ll gladly do that here.”

Late last week, though, the campaign’s website was still listing Allen, Clyde, Greene and Hice as supporters for his 6th District run.

A pair of Georgia counties are the poorest of the poor

The website Trouble in God’s Country turned up some more trouble this past week in rural Georgia.

Charlie Hayslett wrote on his blog about the yawning gap in wealth between the state’s richest and poorest counties.

The United States has 3,114 counties. In terms of per capita income, 3,112 of them rank ahead of Georgia’s Telfair County ($22,644), which only has bragging rights over the state’s Wheeler County ($21,087).

For some perspective, the per capital income in each is less than one-fourth of the state’s leader, $95,683 in Fulton County. At the top of the heap nationally is Wyoming’s Teton County at $220,645.

Wheeler and Telfair are at the bottom, but eight other Georgia counties aren’t faring much better. Ten of the nation’s 30 poorest counties are located in Georgia.

Florida, with six, and South Dakota, with four, are the only other states that have more than two counties that fall within the final 30.

Candidates, endorsements, etc.:

— Gwinnett County Commission Chair Nicole Love Hendrickson threw her support to U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux in the 7th Congressional District. Bourdeaux is facing opposition from a fellow Democrat in the U.S. House, Lucy McBath, who currently represents the 6th Congressional District.

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