“I have to work doubly hard to dispel the myth of his leadership and anchor the possibilities that my administration can create,” she said in an interview.
“We have urgent and clear needs, and Brian Kemp is refusing to take action,” Abrams said. “I’ve got to demonstrate that I can meet him on the battlefield and defeat him.”
Abrams is attempting to balance the high expectations of her supporters with the realities of a midterm cycle affected by national forces.
While Democrats hope to capitalize on outrage over high-profile U.S. Supreme Court decisions, they also acknowledge that pocketbook issues stemming from high inflation and President Joe Biden’s economic record could be the dominant thing on voters’ minds in November.
Her campaign has channeled its resources toward countering those forces. She’s spent more than $15 million on advertising, according to a media analysis, and she’s hired nearly 80 staffers to build a statewide apparatus that can go toe-to-toe with Kemp.
And she’s loaded her calendar with traditional campaign rallies and more targeted events that cater to distinct blocs of voters, such as Black men, abortion rights supporters and college students.
But her strategy has played out most vividly when it comes to policy proposals. Within the past month, she’s vowed to raise teacher pay, hike law enforcement salaries, suspend the gas tax through the year and give Georgians a $1 billion tax refund using surplus funds.
In the coming weeks, she plans to outline initiatives designed to use state and federal resources to respond to housing supply shortages and growing economic inequities.
It also helps undercut Republican attacks that portray the Democrat as a tax-and-spend liberal, since she has repeatedly said she wouldn’t hike taxes if she’s elected, though her plans rely on tapping a record surplus and on continued robust growth in tax revenues.
It’s part of an attempt to keep liberal Georgians motivated while wooing voters who feel disenchanted or disengaged with state politics.
Without Donald Trump on the ballot or in the White House, Georgia Democrats no longer have one of the most energizing factors they’ve used to motivate voters in recent elections.
And to some Georgia voters, Kemp is no longer as polarizing as he was during the 2018 election after a sharp split with Trump that has helped shape the midterm elections.
The first lifelong Republican governor in state history, he championed a string of measures abhorred by Democrats, including an anti-abortion law he touted as one of the nation’s toughest.
But he also rejected the former president’s attempts to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election and beat back a Trump-backed challenge from David Perdue, whose far-right platform and allegiance to election fraud lies made the governor seem more moderate by comparison.
Myrna Gantner, a veteran educator who often votes for Democrats, said her vote for Kemp in November is designed to send a signal beyond the state.
“I want to send a message to the national Republican Party that Georgia can’t be bullied by Trump and his followers,” she said. “I want to reward Kemp for standing his ground against Trump after the 2020 election.”
‘Rake in cash’
Unlike Abrams, the governor has yet to outline specific policy proposals for a second term in office. Instead, he’s focusing on his first-term record, including his decision to reopen Georgia’s economy during the coronavirus pandemic and his moves to secure $5,000 raises for teachers.
“Brian Kemp has been absolutely silent. He’s coasting on what he has done, and he has refused to tell voters what he will do,” Abrams said. “We need to demand that he tell us how he stops the exodus of teachers, the loss of health care workers and addresses the housing crisis.”
The governor and his allies frame Abrams’ proposals as copycat spoofs on Kemp policies or pie-in-the-sky ideas that would strain Georgia’s budget. But his campaign hasn’t acted with urgency to respond to Abrams’ proposals with his own slate of new ideas.
Ahead in most polls, the Republican has focused instead on painting Abrams as a Biden lackey who would bring liberal policies to a closely divided state. He’s expected to issue his policy proposals in the fall.
And after smothering Perdue in the GOP primary, the governor’s allies are confident he can hold together the fractious conservative base while wooing more middle-of-the-road voters.
Even so, in terms of fundraising, his campaign recognizes he’ll be playing catchup to Abrams in a race that is sure to shatter gubernatorial spending records. His aides remind donors that the power of incumbency won’t be enough to overtake one of the nation’s elite fundraisers.
“Anyone who didn’t think Abrams was going to rake in cash from liberals across the country by the tens of millions hasn’t been paying attention,” campaign spokesman Tate Mitchell said
“Unfortunately for her — and her donors — Georgians aren’t buying the radical agenda Abrams is selling,” Mitchell said.
‘We cannot underestimate Brian Kemp’
Abrams campaign, meanwhile, worries about a different sort of danger with the soaring money totals: a false sense of complacency, particularly from a national network of donors not closely engaged in Georgia politics.
When the campaign released its financial figures, there was no victory lap that accompanied the news that Abrams had amassed $22 million — and had about $18.5 million in the bank between two accounts — compared with Kemp’s $7 million.
Instead, campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo presented a message of caution. She compared Kemp to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has tapped a collection of billionaires to raise more than $124 million for his campaign.
And in a Sunday briefing to small-dollar donors, she outlined a “massive” universe of potential supporters that included 1.1 million sporadic voters and 1.3 million others who haven’t voted since 2016 that Abrams’ campaign could reach with more resources.
Her underlying message to Democrats still giddy after statewide victories in the presidential race in 2020 and the U.S. Senate runoffs in 2021 was clear.
“We cannot underestimate Brian Kemp.”