Deleted Abrams tweet shows how schools’ COVID policies in 2022 crosshairs

‘Where is Stacey’s mask?’ Perdue asks.
An image of Stacey Abrams with a group of students in Decatur that was in a now-deleted tweet.

Credit: File

Credit: File

An image of Stacey Abrams with a group of students in Decatur that was in a now-deleted tweet.

The tweet from Stacey Abrams seemed innocuous enough, promoting her appearance at a Decatur school honoring Black History Month.

But the pictures under the now-deleted post are what triggered a Republican backlash that could factor into the November race for governor.

Abrams visited Glennwood Elementary School on Friday to talk about her new children’s book and speak with faculty and staff. The school’s principal tweeted her thanks — along with images of Abrams, without a mask, posing with students and faculty.

Abrams amplified the message on social media.

Within hours, Republicans had bombarded both the principal and Abrams with attacks criticizing the Democratic candidate. Not long after the principal deleted her tweet, Abrams did the same.

Sunday brought attacks from Abrams’ gubernatorial rivals Gov. Brian Kemp and former U.S. Sen. David Perdue.

“This kind of hypocrisy is exactly why Georgians see her campaign for governor for what it truly is: a quest for more power,” said Kemp spokesman Tate Mitchell, adding that the Republican incumbent is “fighting to put students and parents first.”

Perdue, Kemp’s GOP challenger, followed with an attack on Kemp for the “disgrace” of allowing public schools to require masks and Abrams for “hypocrisy (that) knows no bounds.”

“Where is Stacey’s mask?” Perdue asked. “Liberals’ thirst for power during this pandemic has caused enormous damage to our kids, while the elite like Stacey continue living their lives.”

The Abrams’ campaign shot back that it was “shameful” how Republicans used a Black History Month reading event to fuel a “pitiful and predictable” critique.

Her campaign said she wore a mask to the event and only removed it so she could be heard by students watching remotely and for a handful of photos on the condition that everyone around her was wearing face-coverings.

Video footage of the event reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows Abrams arrived at the podium wearing a mask, taking it off just before she began to speak.

“This pathetic, transparent and silly attack is beneath anyone who claims he wants to lead Georgia,” said campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo.

‘Stood in the gap’

At the heart of the back-and-forth is a broader debate over coronavirus policies during the 2022 midterms.

Kemp and fellow Republicans contend aggressive efforts to roll back economic restrictions and push schools to reopen helped Georgia’s economy quickly rebound. Abrams and Democrats have blamed the rapid spread of the virus on Kemp’s “inaction” and refusal to take more steps to curb the virus.

Gov. Brian Kemp observes a mock courtroom during a tour or the Alliance Academy for Innovation in Cumming on Monday, Jan. 31, 2022. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

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Credit: Ben Gray

Eager to press their argument, Republicans claim Abrams will demand more restrictions if elected governor — and they highlight their own more limited approach.

The governor, who last week toured a Forsyth County school without a mask, on Sunday accused Abrams of wanting “state government mask mandates for Georgians and their children.”

Abrams’ stances on mask requirements have been less clear until this episode. She has criticized the governor for seeking to block Atlanta and other cities from imposing mask mandates, saying Kemp is “too afraid of the consequences of leadership to actually demonstrate any.”

She has not issued any calls for mask requirements since entering the race for governor, though she’s supported vaccine mandates for health care workers and “vulnerable populations.”

Her campaign spokesman Seth Bringman said Sunday that Abrams encourages schools to require mask for students, faculty and staff and that she supports public health requirements that recommend masks in other close or indoor settings.

He added that Abrams also acknowledges that a person may temporarily remove a mask in limited circumstances that adhere to scientific guidelines, citing studies. He said she would “continue to look to the science and public health experts to guide recommendations” if elected governor.

Republicans see a potent line of attack tying Democrats to more virus restrictions. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll in January showed about 13% of Georgia voters labeled coronavirus the most important issue in Georgia, while many more said jobs and elections issues are their dominant concern.

At every campaign stop, Kemp has touted Georgia’s low jobless rates and repeated a vow to never again institute requirements that shuttered businesses and limited schools from in-person learning.

Kemp has placed a bet that voters will link Abrams to restrictive coronavirus policies, and said Sunday he’s fighting Abrams’ “dangerous agenda” on the pandemic.

(His sweeping rollbacks of virus restrictions were not uniformly praised by Republicans, at the time, either: He drew sharp criticism from then-President Donald Trump in April 2020 when he began lifting certain economic lockdowns.)

Expect Kemp’s campaign to lean more into the argument that 2022 will be a battle to “protect our freedoms” in the classroom and marketplace. Sunday, his campaign aide Cody Hall confirmed the image of a mask-less Abrams will be in a blitz of TV ads later this year.

“The governor stood in the gap beside job creators and hardworking Georgians to stop rogue local governments from shutting down their communities for months on end.”