A ‘Stacey Sweep’: Abrams’ runoff gamble pays off in Georgia

Georgia gubernatorial Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams endorsed three candidates for statewide office in Tuesday's Democratic runoffs, and all three won. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia gubernatorial Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams endorsed three candidates for statewide office in Tuesday's Democratic runoffs, and all three won. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Stacey Abrams took a risk when she tried to shape the Democratic ticket by endorsing three statewide candidates in unpredictable runoffs. Her gamble paid off Tuesday with huge victories by the trio of contenders on her slate.

Had any of them lost their races, Abrams would face the difficult prospect of campaigning on the same ticket as a fellow Democrat she actively opposed. Instead, Abrams successfully engineered the group of candidates who will share the ballot with her in November.

The three she endorsed — attorney Charlie Bailey for lieutenant governor, state Rep. William Boddie for labor commissioner and state Rep. Bee Nguyen for secretary of state — defined an otherwise sleepy Democratic runoff campaign.

Each won by big margins. Nguyen, who represents the Georgia House district Abrams once did, demolished former state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler. Bailey bested Kwanza Hall, a former Atlanta city councilman, while Boddie trounced Nicole Horn.

Combined ShapeCaption
Charlie Bailey, left, came in second in the May Democratic primary for lieutenant governor with 18% of the vote to about 30% for Kwanza Hall. But after picking up an endorsement from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, Bailey scored a big win over Hall in Tuesday's runoff. Submitted photos.

Credit: Maya T. Prabhu

Charlie Bailey, left, came in second in the May Democratic primary for lieutenant governor with 18% of the vote to about 30% for Kwanza Hall. But after picking up an endorsement from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, Bailey scored a big win over Hall in Tuesday's runoff. Submitted photos.

Credit: Maya T. Prabhu

Combined ShapeCaption
Charlie Bailey, left, came in second in the May Democratic primary for lieutenant governor with 18% of the vote to about 30% for Kwanza Hall. But after picking up an endorsement from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, Bailey scored a big win over Hall in Tuesday's runoff. Submitted photos.

Credit: Maya T. Prabhu

Credit: Maya T. Prabhu

Fred Hicks, a veteran Democratic strategist, said Abrams has “cemented herself as the unquestioned leader of the Democratic Party” with her picks.

“A loss in any of the three seats would have been spun as a sign of weakness and an inability to hold her caucus together,” he said. “She took an incredible risk and now, with the Stacey Sweep, will reap great rewards. She will dictate the pace for the Democratic Party.”

Abrams put more than her name on the line. She ran radio ads and dispatched fundraising appeals for the three contenders. After their victories, she called the newly minted nominees “exemplary leaders who share a deep commitment to serving all Georgians.”

“While Republicans focus on extreme and reckless policies that put more guns on our streets, ban women’s access to reproductive health care and drive teachers from the classroom,” she said, “Democrats will work together toward victory and lead Georgia to its next and greatest chapter.”

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Abrams’ success contrasts with former President Donald Trump’s attempts to pick winners and losers in Georgia. His choices for two open U.S. House seats — Jake Evans and Vernon Jones — were demolished in Tuesday’s GOP runoffs. And last month, Trump-backed challengers to Gov. Brian Kemp and other incumbents were humiliated.

“If you didn’t know how much more a Stacey Abrams endorsement mattered than a Trump endorsement, tonight just told you,” Democratic state Rep. Josh McLaurin said.

Why did she take the risk? Senior Democrats worried that a weak or scandal-plagued candidate down the ballot could harm other contenders — including Abrams and U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, who is running for a full six-year term against Herschel Walker.

The picks also were noteworthy because of Abrams’ efforts to diversify the ticket as a tough November rematch against Kemp approaches.

Nguyen would be the first Asian American elected to a statewide executive office in Georgia history. Boddie joins several other Black nominees. And Bailey is the only white man on the Democratic statewide ticket.

Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz said the picks help Democrats appeal to key parts of the electoral coalition that powered the party’s 2020 victories in the presidential race and U.S. Senate runoffs.

“Democrats have to have a very strong African American turnout to win in Georgia. But the other thing that’s crucial is you have to get a sufficient share of the white vote, and the growing Latino and Asian American vote,” he said. “And Democrats hope having this balanced ticket can help them pull off statewide victories again.”

Bailey’s contest might have been the hardest to predict. He was the runner-up in the 2018 race for attorney general, and he was angling for a rematch against Chris Carr when party leaders persuaded him to switch to a run for lieutenant governor instead.

Finishing with 18% of the vote in the May primary, Bailey lagged far behind Hall, who captured about 30% thanks to solid support in metro Atlanta.

But Abrams and other party officials rallied behind Bailey in hopes that his background as a former Fulton County prosecutor who targeted gang crime would help counter GOP attacks that paint Democrats as supporters of the “defund the police” movement.

Her endorsement also underscored concerns about Hall, who skipped the Atlanta Press Club debate and refused to answer queries about his absence. He was represented by an empty podium as Bailey leveled sharp attacks about his finances.

Hicks, the Democratic strategist, said Bailey’s victory was the best illustration of Abrams’ clout in the state party.

“In Georgia, where race is as big a factor as anything else, she supported a white male who finished a distant second in the primary against an African American male,” he said. “And she was able to elevate Bailey to a win.”