At joint rally, Abrams and Warnock project unity and attack GOP health policy

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and Stacey Abrams traded warm praise for each other — and slammed Republican health care policy — at a campaign rally Wednesday designed to quell concerns about party unity at the top of the Democratic ticket.

The two high-profile Democrats used the rally to tear into Republican opposition to Medicaid expansion in the wake of an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report hours earlier that the Atlanta Medical Center would soon close.

“This isn’t down in Randolph County or up in Commerce. This isn’t happening in rural Georgia or suburban Georgia. This is happening in the heart of Atlanta,” Abrams said of the fate of the Wellstar Health System facility.

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“We’ve got a senator in Raphael Warnock who has been fighting to expand Medicaid and serve 600,000 Georgians right here in our state,” Abrams said.

Warnock, too, highlighted federal efforts to spur more health care access to make his case for Abrams’ election.

“We need a governor who will expand Medicaid in Georgia. We need Stacey Abrams. We need a Legislature that will expand Medicaid in Georgia,” Warnock said.

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Wellstar’s decision to shutter the Atlanta Medical Center dealt a blow to the city’s fragile network of health care providers. The 460-bed hospital in downtown Atlanta had a sister hospital that earlier closed its emergency room, dramatically increasing the strain on nearby hospitals.

Gov. Brian Kemp’s spokesman said he “shares the concerns of the community on the impact this will have.” He and other top state Republicans have opposed Medicaid expansion as too costly for the state and too inflexible for patients.

The governor has instead pursued a more limited Medicaid expansion tied to work and academic requirements. His program was recently upheld in the federal courts, a key victory for his health care agenda.

‘Trailblazer’

The Abrams-Warnock event, held under a towering shade tree near the Cobb County Civic Center, was announced amid scrutiny of their arms-length approach on the campaign trail despite a long political alliance and personal friendship.

Behind in the polls, Abrams is embracing President Joe Biden and his agenda. Locked in a tighter race, Warnock is more eager to demonstrate his independence and burnish his appeal to swing voters who may be skeptical of Republican Herschel Walker.

The two candidates seemed determined to silence concerns about their unity.

Shortly after Warnock disembarked from his campaign bus, he made a beeline to Abrams. The two embraced as a crowd of supporters showered them with applause as a bank of cameras filmed their every step.

Nearby, a group of demonstrators dressed as Biden mocked the gathering. Garrison Douglas of the Republican National Committee called them a “dynamic defund-the-police duo.”

“After their support of Joe Biden delivered 40-year-high inflation, reduced wages and a recession, Georgians are counting down the days until Warnock and Abrams are rejected this November,” Douglas said.

Abrams, who spoke first, took a tacit shot at Walker’s penchant for bizarre statements, saying of Warnock that we need “someone who can speak clearly about the challenges we face, we need someone who can articulate the vision we have of the future.”

“Wherever there is a challenge, he is there to serve the people,” Abrams said of the senator. “Whether it is standing up for voting rights or fighting back against mass incarceration, where there is evil afoot and there is wrong being done, he is there to make it right.”

Warnock returned the favor a few minutes later as Abrams stood in the first row of the crowd. He called the gubernatorial candidate an “extraordinary and visionary leader, a trailblazer in the best sense of the word.”

Though it’s not the first event they’ve attended together this campaign cycle, it is the most significant one. The rally was held in Cobb County, once solidly Republican territory that flipped in 2016 and remains key to Democrats’ fortunes in 2022.

Questions over when and how the two Democratic stars would campaign together were sent into overdrive Tuesday after a Warnock campaign event in Newnan, where the senator did not directly say whether he would campaign with Abrams.

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Instead, Warnock called her an “important leader” and praised her stance on voting rights and expanding Medicaid. Pressed again on whether he would campaign with Abrams, Warnock was dismissive of “pundits” and said he would rather focus on voters.

Their Republican counterparts have been even more squeamish to appear together. A photo taken backstage at a Middle Georgia event of a smiling Kemp alongside Walker was the closest they’ve come to campaigning together.

With solid leads in the polls, Kemp might have little motivation to tie himself to Walker, whose travails on the campaign trail have given Democrats renewed hopes of holding Warnock’s seat.

And Walker repeatedly snubbed Kemp during a heated primary, saying he was “mad” at both Kemp and his now-vanquished rival, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, for competing against each other. And Walker wouldn’t say whether he voted for Kemp in May.