As Georgia Republicans clash, Democrats highlight unity

Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams used her speech at Friday's annual fundraising gala for the Democratic Party of Georgia to attacks Gov. Brian Kemp’s record, focusing on a new state law that aims to direct how public school educators teach students about race. “We cannot lie about race, we cannot lie about our truths in this state, we cannot lie about our past in our state if we expect to raise resilient children,” she said. Erik Voss.

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Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams used her speech at Friday's annual fundraising gala for the Democratic Party of Georgia to attacks Gov. Brian Kemp’s record, focusing on a new state law that aims to direct how public school educators teach students about race. “We cannot lie about race, we cannot lie about our truths in this state, we cannot lie about our past in our state if we expect to raise resilient children,” she said. Erik Voss.

‘We’re ready to show everyone it wasn’t a fluke’

When Georgia Democrats last gathered for their annual gala three years ago, the event was shrouded with uncertainty: Would Raphael Warnock run for the U.S. Senate? Would Stacey Abrams mount a new campaign? And would Democrats prove Georgia is a battleground state?

On Friday in the same downtown Atlanta hotel ballroom that hosted the 2019 event, Georgia Democrats took a belated victory lap as they celebrated a 2020 campaign that answered those questions — and tried to project a united front for a tough election ahead.

Warnock, now a U.S. senator competing for a full six-year term, energized the sold-out crowd with calls to forgive student debt. Abrams appealed to supporters to “win the future” as she runs for governor a second time.

And party leaders vowed to build on their victories in the last election as they unveiled plans to bring the Democratic National Convention to Atlanta in 2024.

“We sent two Democratic U.S. senators to Georgia,” said U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, who chairs the state party. “And we’re ready to show everyone it wasn’t a fluke, it wasn’t just about one election cycle and it wasn’t just about Donald Trump.”

Democrats face a new round of questions this election cycle, namely whether they can overcome President Joe Biden’s flagging approval ratings and counter economic concerns about rising inflation to reelect Warnock, oust Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and flip other statewide seats.

Abrams and Warnock have distinct approaches to those challenges. Abrams laced her comments with attacks on Kemp’s record, devoting particular attention to a new state law that aims to direct how public school educators teach students about race.

“We cannot lie about race, we cannot lie about our truths in this state, we cannot lie about our past in our state if we expect to raise resilient children,” she said. “When I think about the difference, it’s that Democrats tell the truth.”

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U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock used his speech Friday at the Democratic Party of Georgia’s annual fundraising gala to pressure the White House to cancel as much as $50,000 in student loan debt for borrowers. “Our children should not have a mortgage before they get a mortgage,” Warnock said. Erik Voss.

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock used his speech Friday at the Democratic Party of Georgia’s annual fundraising gala to pressure the White House to cancel as much as $50,000 in student loan debt for borrowers. “Our children should not have a mortgage before they get a mortgage,” Warnock said. Erik Voss.

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U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock used his speech Friday at the Democratic Party of Georgia’s annual fundraising gala to pressure the White House to cancel as much as $50,000 in student loan debt for borrowers. “Our children should not have a mortgage before they get a mortgage,” Warnock said. Erik Voss.

Warnock centered his pitch on a promise to cap the cost of insulin and pressure the White House to cancel as much as $50,000 in student loan debt for borrowers.

“I’m pushing the president of the United States of America to take his pen and do what he can do right now and forgive student debt,” Warnock said. “He can do it. He can do it by executive action. I’m going to push him to do it.”

He added: “Our children should not have a mortgage before they get a mortgage.”

‘Family business’

Democrats have plenty of their own down-ballot battles, including wide-open contests for key statewide and legislative seats. And the matchup between Democratic U.S. Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux and Lucy McBath will shape the party’s future in the suburbs.

But Democrats at the top of their ticket have faced none of the same turmoil as their GOP counterparts. Abrams is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination, and Warnock drew only a little-known challenger.

That’s freed them to focus entirely on the general election, with messaging tailored to energize their liberal bases and mobilize a broader slice of the electorate.

Even the party’s all-out push to preserve abortion rights after a leaked U.S. Supreme Court opinion suggested that Roe v. Wade could be overturned is geared to attract support beyond core Democratic voters.

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Georgia Republicans are dealing with division within the party after former President Donald Trump endorsed nine candidates in the GOP primary who have embraced his lies about election fraud costing him reelection. They include former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, right, who is running to unseat Gov. Brian Kemp, the target of heavy criticism from the former president, who blames the governor for his defeat in Georgia in the 2020 election. (Miguel Martinez/Atlanta Journal Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Georgia Republicans are dealing with division within the party after former President Donald Trump endorsed nine candidates in the GOP primary who have embraced his lies about election fraud costing him reelection. They include former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, right, who is running to unseat Gov. Brian Kemp, the target of heavy criticism from the former president, who blames the governor for his defeat in Georgia in the 2020 election. (Miguel Martinez/Atlanta Journal Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Georgia Republicans are dealing with division within the party after former President Donald Trump endorsed nine candidates in the GOP primary who have embraced his lies about election fraud costing him reelection. They include former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, right, who is running to unseat Gov. Brian Kemp, the target of heavy criticism from the former president, who blames the governor for his defeat in Georgia in the 2020 election. (Miguel Martinez/Atlanta Journal Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll in January found that only about 1 in 4 registered Georgia voters wanted Roe struck down, while 68% were opposed.

The Democratic camaraderie in marquee races contrasts with the deepening Trump-driven conflict that has riven the Georgia GOP. The former president has endorsed nine GOP contenders who have embraced his lies about election fraud in the 2020 race.

No GOP matchup in Georgia looms larger than the primary between Gov. Brian Kemp and former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, a Trump loyalist who has centered his campaign on the former president’s support.

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Former Vice President Mike Pence, right, will campaign for Gov. Brian Kemp on May 23, the day before the state's primary, in his most significant split with his onetime boss, former President Donald Trump. John Spink / john.spink@ajc.com

Former Vice President Mike Pence, right, will campaign for Gov. Brian Kemp on May 23, the day before the state's primary, in his most significant split with his onetime boss, former President Donald Trump. John Spink / john.spink@ajc.com

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Former Vice President Mike Pence, right, will campaign for Gov. Brian Kemp on May 23, the day before the state's primary, in his most significant split with his onetime boss, former President Donald Trump. John Spink / john.spink@ajc.com

Hours before the dinner, a new wedge emerged with word that Mike Pence will headline a primary eve rally for Kemp. It’s the former vice president’s most significant split with his ex-boss and a vivid illustration of the deepening GOP divide in Georgia.

But Trump’s thirst for revenge against Kemp, whom he blames for his election defeat in Georgia, has mushroomed into a broader quest to also unseat the governor’s allies.

Even major party gatherings have become a source of tension. Many top Republicans skipped the state GOP’s signature fundraiser earlier this year and instead attended a lakeside barbecue in southeast Georgia to honor law enforcement.

ExploreThe Jolt: GOP bigwigs ditch State Party gala for pond house cookout

The Democratic gala, by contrast, featured every leading party figure and hundreds of elected officials, activists and candidates.

Williams, the state Democratic chair, made sure to underline what she saw as a sharp split between the two parties.

“We’re letting them hash out their family business,” she said, “while we’re continuing to do the work of the people of Georgia.”

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