PG A.M.: Black influencers rally behind Biden at Essence Festival

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Vice President Kamala Harris (right) listens as Essence CEO Caroline Wanga speaks during the Essence Festival of Culture in New Orleans on Saturday.

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Vice President Kamala Harris (right) listens as Essence CEO Caroline Wanga speaks during the Essence Festival of Culture in New Orleans on Saturday.

The Essence Festival bills itself as the largest Black culture and music festival in the nation, so it’s no wonder that brands and celebrities flock to New Orleans every Fourth of July weekend to market themselves to the tens of thousands who attend each year.

And especially in election years, Essence Festival becomes an essential stop for political organizations and elected officials wanting to spread their message to the captive and engaged audience.

Vice President Kamala Harris was the big draw on Saturday, speaking to a standing-room-only crowd of several hundred people. And while she celebrated what she and President Joe Biden have achieved since taking office in 2021, she avoided the current controversy surrounding Biden’s mental acuity and age as he seeks a second term.

But plenty of allies stood in the gap for the vice president, directly making the case for why the embattled president should remain at the top of the Democratic Party’s ticket.

A panel at the Essence Festival discusses election and civil rights issues. (Left to right): Damon T. Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.; and journalist Joy Reid.

Credit: AP

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Credit: AP

Harris’ opening act was a quartet of Congressional Black Caucus members who told the crowd in no uncertain terms that Biden was their nominee with Harris standing beside him as the second-in-command.

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California, had the crowd shouting in agreement as she said, “I’m going to tell you no matter what anybody says, it ain’t going to be no other Democratic candidate. It’s going to be Biden, and you better know it.”

Waters then passed the mic to actress Jenifer Lewis, who happened to be in the crowd and used strong language to encourage attendees to stick with Biden.

“Standing side by side by side, we’ll win it and we’ll win it by a landslide,” she said. “This election ain’t no joke; we gotta take this (expletive) by the throat.”

Earlier in the afternoon, U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams spoke at a small gathering with other lawmakers and encouraged those in attendance not to be swayed by polling or news reports about the presidential contest.

“This time in our nation’s history, we need everyone that is of good faith to be the thermostat and not the thermometer,” the Atlanta Democrat said. “Because then you can lead where we’re going in this country and not just follow the trends that you’re being pushed from the media narrative.”

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First lady Jill Biden will be in Columbus today.

Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

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Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

GEORGIA 2024. As Vice President Kamala Harris made the campaign’s case to Black women at the Essence Festival, President Joe Biden and other allies braced for one of the toughest stretches of his political career.

The volatile week begins today when first lady Jill Biden — who has been adamant that her husband stay in the race — arrives in Columbus to rally supporters. It’s the most significant campaign event in Georgia since the June 27 debate at CNN’s studios in Atlanta.

Adding to the tumult, congressional Democrats return to Washington for the first time since the debate. At least five U.S. House Democrats have pressed Biden to step aside, and roughly a dozen others have raised concerns about his reelection chances in a close race against presumptive Republican nominee and former President Donald Trump.

Seeking to prove he is up for the job, Biden spent the long holiday weekend headlining a series of campaign events, including two on Sunday in Pennsylvania. He is also set to hold a closely watched news conference at a NATO summit in Washington, along with campaign stops in Michigan and Texas.

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Athens-Clarke County District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez is facing a general election challenge.

Credit: Nell Carroll

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Credit: Nell Carroll

ATHENS ELECTION. Oft-criticized Athens-Clarke County District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez will face a general election challenge in November as Independent candidate Kalki Yalamanchili has collected enough signatures from registered voters to get his name on the ballot.

Our AJC colleague Fletcher Page reports Yalamanchili last week submitted a petition signed by 14,000 voters to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office in Atlanta. He needed roughly 5,400 signatures to qualify for the ballot. The Secretary of State is now working to verify the signatures, a process that could take five to seven weeks.

Yalamanchili has experience as a prosecutor and currently is in private practice. He also teaches law as an adjunct professor at the University of Georgia.

Kalki Yalamanchili is running against Athens-Clarke County District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez.

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Credit: Courtesy photo

Gonzalez, a Democrat, has faced withering critiques of her performance as district attorney throughout her first term, particularly from state Republicans. In 2023, she was mentioned prominently during state lawmakers’ crafting of a bill to create the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission.

Earlier this year following the killing of 22-year-old nursing student Laken Riley, state Rep. Houston Gaines, R-Athens, called Gonzalez’ job performance “unacceptable.”

Yalamanchili has described the district attorney’s office under Gonzalez as “a disaster,” citing staffing shortages and accusing the office of mishandling violent offenses.

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The campaign of failed U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker has filed a lawsuit against a Texas-based media firm.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

WALKER WOES. Failed U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker’s campaign has filed a lawsuit against a Texas-based media firm it claims charged inflated costs for ad buys and made improper payments.

The complaint, first reported by Law360, accuses Scott Howell and Co. of inflated ad costs for Walker’s campaign by 7% to an unauthorized escrow account that ultimately accrued about $1.6 million.

The Howell firm didn’t immediately comment and court filings show no attorney yet listed on the case. Read the complaint here.

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GEN Z MAYOR. Brooke Huckaby is a 21-year-old farm tech student at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College who works part-time at the state Department of Agriculture.

She’s also the youngest female mayor in state history and one of the youngest in the nation, WALB reports.

Huckaby succeeded her father, Craig, earlier this year as mayor of Arabi, a southwest Georgia town of nearly 500 people.

She told WALB her typical day consists of a mix of school work, approving work orders for Arabi and then heading to the state agriculture office in Tifton to help research scientists.

“I feel like I’m living three different lives sometimes,” she told the station.

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Brian Stelter is a guest today on the "Politically Georgia" show.

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Credit: Courtesy photo

LISTEN UP. Today on “Politically Georgia,” media analyst Brian Stelter recaps President Joe Biden’s busy public schedule in recent days and talks about how news organizations have covered the presidential race in light of Biden’s poor performance at the Atlanta debate.

University of Georgia Professor Charles Bullock and Emory University Professor Andra Gillespie also join the show to discuss how voters are responding to Biden and the recent speculation about whether he should step aside.

Listen live at 10 a.m. on WABE 90.1 or follow “Politically Georgia” on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

Last week before the holiday break, former U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux shared the reasons why she became the most prominent Georgia Democrat thus far to call on President Joe Biden to withdraw from the presidential contest. Bourdeaux penned a commentary repeating that plea following Biden’s interview with ABC News that aired Friday.

Associated Press Reporter Lisa Mascaro also shared her reporting on “Project 2025,” a document outlining what conservatives hope to accomplish if former President Donald Trump returns to the White House.

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Lauren Colby, 19, can vote in a presidential election for the first time.

Credit: Katelyn Myrick/AJC

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Credit: Katelyn Myrick/AJC

VOTER VOICES. The latest installment of the AJC’s ongoing series exploring voter sentiments in key areas of the state beyond Atlanta posted over the weekend. The package features voters from Banks, Chatham, Clayton, Peach and Washington counties sharing their hopes and fears about the 2024 presidential election.

The July stories include the voices of a teen first-time voter, a convicted felon who served a 10-year sentence and was released in 2005, a grandmother and a retired school teacher.

New Voter Voices profiles publish monthly and can be read at ajc.com/politics.

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TODAY IN WASHINGTON:

  • President Joe Biden has no public events on his schedule.
  • The House has evening votes scheduled on conservation legislation.
  • The Senate has more confirmations lined up.

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Atlanta native Rykia Dorsey Craig is continuing her work with first lady Jill Biden in a new role.

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Credit: Courtesy photo

PERSONNEL NOTE. Atlanta native Rykia Dorsey Craig will serve the Biden-Harris campaign as deputy chief of staff and press secretary for first lady Jill Biden. Craig’s most recent job was special assistant to the president and press secretary in the Office of the First Lady.

Craig grew up in southwest Atlanta and attended Tri-Cities High School. While a student at Howard University, she interned for U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta. She is a veteran of Biden’s 2020 campaign and later joined the White House communications team.

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AS ALWAYS, Politically Georgia readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to greg.bluestein@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com, patricia.murphy@ajc.com and adam.vanbrimmer@ajc.com.