AJC Interview: Abrams on the ‘clearest signal’ why she should be Georgia gov

Stacey Abrams in October 2018. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Stacey Abrams in October 2018. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

When Stacey Abrams entered the race for governor two weeks ago, she was preparing for a rematch against Gov. Brian Kemp. The race now has a decidedly different dynamic after former U.S. Sen. David Perdue upended the contest.

Abrams told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday that the Republican-on-Republican feuding between Kemp and Perdue won’t change her approach – and only heightens her call for unity behind a “One Georgia” platform.

But the Democrat issued a sharp warning to Kemp ahead of an election-year legislative session that is likely to revolve around issues of race, culture and gender designed to energize conservatives in the thick of a nasty primary fight.

“The reality is we need a leader who is willing to invest in Georgia and keep us together, not someone intent on dividing us,” Abrams said.

“If he intends to use a legislative session – a time we should be serving the people – to focus on dividing us, it’s the clearest signal why I should be the governor.”

Though there was outside speculation about whether she would launch a new campaign, Abrams said she was “very clear internally” to her close friends and advisers she was destined to run for governor again.

Her initial policies resemble those she highlighted during her 2018 campaign, with a focus on expanding Medicaid and boosting school funding, along with new calls to bolster public health programs to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

She also took an unequivocal stance opposing a referendum to create a new city of Buckhead, which has fast become a dividing line in the GOP race. Perdue has endorsed allowing Buckhead to divorce from Atlanta, while Kemp has so far refused to take a stance.

“I absolutely oppose dividing Atlanta,” said Abrams. “I’m running to create one Georgia and I believe in a united Atlanta. This is a vital issue for the future of our state.”

Experts, voters say Georgia's governor race will be intense

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Here are excerpts from the AJC interview:

On her approach to the GOP infighting between Kemp and Perdue:

“The internecine fights on the other side don’t concern me. My job is to fight for Georgians, respond to the crises we face and offer real solutions … I’m not of that other community and their battles do not impact my plans for healthcare, education and coronavirus relief. My job is to battle for one Georgia.”

On rebuilding a winning Democratic coalition without Donald Trump on the ballot:

“I’ve been working on this for more than decade, long before Trump was a conversation in the political lexicon. … My responsibility is to pay attention to the coalition of Georgians who are asking for help. They want a leader who says, ‘I see you, I hear you, and I’m willing to help you.’

“It’s not about who used to be the president. It’s about who’s not serving effectively as governor. My responsibility is to reach out to those who showed up in 2018 and 2020 and 2021, and together build a coalition that can win in 2022.”

Gov. Brian Kemp, the incumbent Republican, is being challenged this election by Democrat Stacey Abrams. (AJC)

Credit: AJC

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Credit: AJC

On the false claims about election fraud dominating the GOP contest:

“You combat misinformation and disinformation with accurate information. I can’t refute every outlandish claim the other side makes. The other side will make those claims with remarkable amnesia. I’ll use my platform to make sure people have the truth. And the best way people have a clear contrast is to tell the truth.”

On her campaign strategy:

“We’ll meet the Georgia people where they are. I’m going to go everywhere. I’m going to meet individuals where they are, listen to the pain they’re feeling. The current governor isn’t listening to people. He picks fights with leaders, watches the death toll in the community climb and he doesn’t do anything about it. I’m not going to simply go where people agree with me. I’m going to every county and every community I can reach.”

On reviving key policies from her 2018 campaign:

“Those are the vital issues that center and expand access in our state. I believe in mobility – economic mobility, social mobility, educational mobility. These are the keys to a prosperous and effective Georgia, and these are the policies we need to get us there … You shouldn’t die in Georgia in 2021 because the governor is too mean to accept Medicaid expansion dollars.”

12/14/2020 —  Atlanta, Georgia —  Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams joins in applause after she and other members of Georgia’s Electoral College cast their ballots in the Georgia Senate Chambers at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Monday, December 14, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@

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Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@

On the prospect of a divisive legislative session:

“Elections and campaigns are about deciding the direction of the community and the state. Brian Kemp is showing us who he is through his decisions, and I’ve had to work time and again to help Georgians when he wouldn’t.

“The reality is we need a leader who is willing to invest in Georgia and keep us together, not someone intent on dividing us. If he intends to use a legislative session – a time we should be serving the people – to focus on dividing us, it’s the clearest signal why I should be the governor.”

On whether Democratic victories in 2020 changed her strategy:

“It reaffirms what we know. We have a winning coalition. We will continue to win. We are not guaranteed anything but if we continue to talk about the issues that matter in this state, and if we hold the coalition that won in ‘20 and ‘21, we’re absolutely on the path.”

On whether she’ll embrace Joe Biden and White House policies in 2022:

“I’m running to be the governor of Georgia and anyone willing to invest in Georgia and improve our infrastructure and keep our voters safe is welcome to come and work with us. … Part of this campaign is to talk about the resources coming and also why they aren’t being deployed properly by the leadership of this state.

“We’ll talk about why Brian Kemp is opposed to serving communities with the resources provided by this administration. We’ll talk about the dollars that Joe Biden and Senators Ossoff and Warnock have delivered.”