The Jolt: GOP jumps on Stacey Abrams’ comment calling Georgia ‘worst state to live in’

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

At a Gwinnett Democratic gala over the weekend, Stacey Abrams had some harsh words for her home state that Republicans quickly jumped to exploit. From the Gwinnett Daily Post:

“I am tired of hearing about how we're the best state in the country to do business when we are the worst state in the country to live," said Abrams before she acknowledged Republicans would attack her for the later part of that statement.

“Let me contextualize. When you're No. 48 for mental health, when we're No. 1 for maternal mortality, when you have an incarceration rate that is on the rise and wages are on the decline, then you are not the No. 1 place to live."

- The Gwinnett Daily Post

It’s a parallel to the final days of the 2018 race for governor, when Abrams told students in Statesboro that “people shouldn’t have to go into agriculture or hospitality in Georgia to make a living.”

Though she quickly clarified that she meant she wanted to diversify the economy, Republican Brian Kemp and his allies leveraged the misstep to energize rural voters.

Abrams is also looking to reframe her Gwinnett comments with a tweet criticizing Kemp’s handling of healthcare and gun violence, but even her allies acknowledged the remarks were sure to be featured in GOP attacks.

Sure enough, Kemp loyalists told us they’re planning to go “all in.” His campaign aides amplified social media posts criticizing her remarks all weekend — she trended on Twitter for a period on Sunday — and Kemp condemned Abrams in an early Monday online briefing.

“I tell people I wake up every single day, and believe now more than I ever have, that we live in the greatest state in the country to live work and raise our families,” Kemp said.

He added: “It’s no wonder that she thinks that way. She’s criticized everything I’ve done.”

***

Today on the campaign trail:

  • The last-day fly-around tours for several campaigns, including Gov. Brian Kemp’s, have been scrapped today because of the forecast for stormy weather.
  • Former Vice President Mike Pence will headline a 6:00 rally for Kemp’s closing argument to GOP voters, which you can read more about here;
  • Former President Donald Trump will call into a final 7 p.m. “tele rally” for his pick for governor, former Sen. David Perdue.

***

Today in Washington:

  • The House is in recess for the next two weeks.
  • The Senate is out of session today.

***

David Perdue is closing out his campaign for governor the way he started it-- with false claims of widespread 2020 election fraud driving his message to the bitter end.

In a case of politics making for extremely strange bedfellows, the former Fortune 500 CEO showed up at a Bikers for Trump rally at Papa J & Mama T’s Crazy Acres Bar & Grill in Plainville Friday, and started his speech this way: “Let me bet very clear: the 2020 election was rigged and stolen… people broke the damn law in Georgia and I want them to go to jail.”

***

More than 857,000 Georgians cast in-person early votes ahead of Tuesday’s primary day. That’s two-and-a-half times the highest number ever recorded. At this point in 2018, about 321,000 people had cast ballots.

Republicans have been touting the figures as proof that their SB 202 election overhaul made it easier to vote, not harder as Democrats warned.

Since SB 202 added restrictions mostly to absentee mail-in voting, we’ll have to wait until those are counted before drawing any conclusions. The law also added a mandatory Saturday of early voting for counties that didn’t already offer it, which 4,000 voters used this month.

Our Mark Niesse reports 57% of ballots cast so far have been GOP ballots.

***

On a related note, Stacey Abrams campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo released a memo Monday that downplayed the GOP surge in early voting and predicted from Democrats “unmistakable interest and enthusiasm in this election that flies in the face of doom-and-gloom narratives.”

Her campaign pinpointed 35,000 crossover GOP primary voters “we can expect to vote for the Democratic ticket in November.” And it highlighted 42,000 Democrats who voted in this election but didn’t cast ballots in the 2018 general election.

“In the coming months, Democrats will continue to build on the successes of the primary and of preceding elections by engaging voters all over the state, meeting people where they are, and spreading our message and vision for One Georgia.”

Read the memo here.

***

Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., takes a selfie with President Donald Trump during the seventh inning of Game 5 of the baseball World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Credit: File

icon to expand image

Credit: File

Donald Trump might be disappointed in how David Perdue is running his primary challenge, as NBC News reported. But the former president hasn’t cut Perdue loose.

Along with is tele-rally for Perdue tonight, Trump has blasted Kemp at four Georgia rallies in the last 18 months, recruited and then directly intervened to help clear the primary field for Perdue, starred in ads attacking Kemp and spent $2.6 million from his PAC to promote the former U.S. senator’s campaign.

If Trump fails to unseat his nemesis on Tuesday, it won’t be because he didn’t try everything he could.

***

President Donald Trump endorsed a trio of unopposed Republican incumbents in Georgia this weekend, U.S. Reps. Barry Loudermilk, Buddy Carter and Rick Allen.

The move expands his roster of preferred candidates in Georgia to lucky 13 and gives him some near-guaranteed wins if other candidates like former U.S. Sen. David Perdue falter.

***

Two Republicans and two Democrats are running in primaries for attorney general. From left, Republicans Chris Carr and John Gordon; Democrats Jen Jordan and Christian Wise Smith. Submitted photos.

Credit: Maya T. Prabhu

icon to expand image

Credit: Maya T. Prabhu

In the GOP primary for attorney general, a clash is underway over whether John Gordon, the retired businessman and Stop-the-Steal volunteer lawyer, has enough years lawyering to legally serve in office if he’s elected.

The Georgia constitution requires seven years of active Georgia Bar membership in good standing to hold the office. Gordon insists he has more than that, but cannot prove his past Bar membership since neither he nor the Georgia Bar Association has the documents related to his Bar registration in the 1970s and 1980s.

Over the weekend, Gordon sent us affidavits from four attorneys who swore they practiced with him for two separate four-year spans, first in private practice and later as in-house counsel at an Atlanta business, along with time in the 1980s and last year when he was active in Georgia lawsuits. The last affidavit came from Bob Cheeley, an attorney involved in Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the Georgia elections.

Gordon called the questions about this eligibility “incredulous” coming from incumbent AG Chris Carr, who had to make the same case when his own eligibility was challenged. (He had seven-and-a-half years of good standing with the Bar before his appointment to the post.)

A spokesman for the Carr campaign told us in response to Gordon’s documents, “Affidavits don’t meet the constitutional requirement, but he’s not a real lawyer, so he wouldn’t know that.”

Were Gordon to advance in the race, an administrative law judge would ultimately make a recommendation about his eligibility.

***

Another race we’re watching carefully is in the 14th Congressional District, where U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is up for her first reelection.

We caught up with Greene Friday at a “Bikers for Trump” event for David Perdue, where Grene was brought onto the stage to chants of “Let’s go Brandon!”

She said she feels “great” about her chances Tuesday, when the anti-Greene sentiment will be sliced up by five Republicans running against her.

The contest on the Democratic side is less predictable.

Wendy Davis, a Rome city commissioner, has rave reviews and endorsements from 28 state lawmakers and dozens of local and former elected officials.

Holly McCormack is a first-time candidate from Ringgold with an all-female leadership team on her campaign and more than $1.8 million raised for the contest.

A third candidate, Army veteran Marcus Flowers, has raised an astonishing $8.1 million for his race and spent nearly all of it, $7.4 million. We’ve never been granted an interview with the first-time candidate, despite multiple requests.

***

Sen. Jon Ossoff’s speech at the Gwinnett Democrats’ annual Bluetopia gala Saturday night was interrupted by activists who are campaigning for the closure of a U.S. Immigration and Enforcement facility in Folkston. As Ossoff began to speak, they unfurled a banner and chanted “Abolish ICE.”

Ossoff has spoken out in the past about the treatment of immigrants at Georgia facilities and about prison system failures in general.

After a brief demonstration, the activists left and Ossoff continued.

***

President Joe Biden took time during his visit in Seoul, South Korea, to weigh in on the news that Hyundai is building an electric vehicle plant in Southeast Georgia. An excerpt:

The plan is to break ground as soon as January of 2023. And the new facility should be rolling out the latest electric vehicles and batteries to power them by 2025.

And the workers in Georgia who will build these plants and manufacture this new electric battery technology, it means economic opportunity for an awful lot of Americans.

And I want to commend my friends and the two senators in Georgia, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, for how they’ve been fighting for Georgia to be the magnet for this clean energy investment.

Biden’s trip to Asia continues today in Japan.

***

Senate candidate Herschel Walker overstated his role with a program called Patriot Support, the Associated Press reported over the weekend.

And his celebrity status helped mask a “for-profit program that is alleged to have preyed upon veterans and service members while defrauding the government,” the report says.

***

A group backing U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux in her matchup against fellow incumbent Rep. Lucy McBath may have boosted a Republican candidate in another race in the process.

Mailers sent to metro Atlanta voters that appear to be paid for by the Democrats Serve PAC said, “Instead of running for re-election in her district, Lucy McBath handed her congressional vote to radical anti-choice conservative Rich McCormick.”

The charge comes from McBath’s decision to challenge Bourdeaux in the Gwinnett-based 7th District instead of running for reelection in her own 6th District after the GOP-led Legislature redrew the boundaries to be far more conservative-friendly.

Dr. Rich McCormick, now a GOP candidate in the 6th, posted the Democrats Serve flyer on his social media as a point of pride. “Pro-life, conservative…yep, that’s me! The Democrats actually think this is a bad thing!”

***

The public memorial service for the late U.S. Sen. Max Cleland has been scheduled for this Wednesday, May 25, at 11:00 a.m. at Northside United Methodist Church in Atlanta.

A livestream will also be available on the church’s website for those who cannot attend in person.

Cleland died in November, just ahead of Veterans Day, but the public service had been postponed due to COVID rates at the time.

***

As always, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com and greg.bluestein@ajc.com.

Sign Up to receive the Morning Jolt & AJC Politics newsletters in your inbox.