Why Stacey Abrams isn’t running away from Joe Biden

‘Georgia’s the reason we’ve got Joe Biden’

DALTON — As she wound down her campaign speech to hundreds of supporters piled into a community center’s gym, Stacey Abrams asked the North Georgia crowd to look back to 2020 to remember the energy and enthusiasm that helped Democrats score upset wins.

“Georgia is the reason we’ve got Joe Biden,” she said to a burst of applause. “The reason that we’ve got billions of dollars in our coffers, money that’s being spent to help keep us afloat.”

While other Democratic candidates in Georgia are keeping their distance from Biden and his low approval ratings, Abrams is following a different course. She’s embracing both her alliance with the president and the legislative agenda he has championed.

With Gov. Brian Kemp slightly ahead in polls, Abrams wants to rekindle the coalition of liberal Democrats and independent swing voters that powered the president’s victory in 2020 as her opponent blames high inflation and the slowing U.S. economy on the “Biden-Abrams agenda.”

Abrams is placing a bet that victories in Congress could help rehabilitate Biden’s image in Georgia, where his approval rating stood at just 36% in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released last week.

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

But her embrace of Biden also amounts to a tacit acknowledgment that steering clear of him would do little to blunt GOP attacks that have tethered the two together since long before she entered the race for governor.

She publicly lobbied to serve as Biden’s running mate. She orchestrated the strategy that helped him carry Georgia in 2020, making him the first Democratic presidential nominee to capture the state in more than a quarter-century.

And she has championed Biden’s legislative agenda throughout his presidency, advocating for now-stalled federal voting rights legislation, the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan and a recently struck tax deal to curb prescription drug prices and combat climate change.

“I voted for Joe Biden. Joe Biden is the president of the United States. He’s the president of the citizens of the state of Georgia,” Abrams said to cheers in Dalton when asked about her alignment with the president.

“And because of his leadership, we have the American Rescue Plan that’s poured billions of dollars into this state,” she said. “Because of his leadership, we’re about to have, for the first time, a true climate action plan in the U.S.”

‘Focused on the job’

Her strategy sharply differs from U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, a fellow Democrat who has sought to emphasize his independence from Biden as Republicans try to paint him as a lackey of an unpopular president.

Warnock reminds audiences that he helped buck a White House plan to close a Savannah military installation, aggressively lobbied Biden to forgive student debt and badgered him to support a federal gas tax break.

And at stops in Democratic-leaning areas, the crowd often murmurs in surprise when Warnock highlights legislation he sponsored with Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz to extend an interstate highway or with Alabama U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville to boost peanut sales.

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Pressed to comment on Biden’s performance at a recent campaign event, Warnock tried to deflect the question by saying he’s “focused on the job that I’m doing for the people of Georgia.”

“I’m going to fight for them every single day,” Warnock said. “When that means standing with this person, it’s based on what it does for Georgia.”

Georgia Republicans are only intensifying efforts to turn Biden into a political anchor after a new report showed gross domestic product fell for the second straight quarter. The back-to-back declines heightened concerns that the U.S. could be plunging into a recession.

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Republican U.S. Senate nominee Herschel Walker likes to say Warnock “is doing more for Joe Biden than for Georgia.” And Kemp on Friday promised voters he’d dip deeper into Georgia’s record surplus to help “you fight through Joe Biden’s recession.”

“This is why I always say this election for governor in November is a fight for the soul of our state,” Kemp said. “It’s also a fight for our livelihoods and a fight for our family budgets.”

A nadir?

With more than three months until the election, Democrats hope that Biden has nowhere to go but up. And they hope key breakthroughs could buoy his party’s fortunes.

The president will soon sign a $280 billion bill to boost semiconductor production and scientific research. Gas prices remain far higher than typical, but they’re beginning to slide downward nationally and in Georgia.

And a climate change plan that would be the most consequential ever approved by Congress is moving forward, along with provisions to lower health care costs and raise taxes on some profitable corporations. Each is a cornerstone of Biden’s agenda.

Although nearly two-thirds of Georgia Democrats see the country as headed down the “wrong track,” that doesn’t mean they’re about to defect to Republicans. Derald Tenison, a North Georgia retiree, said he’s as concerned as anyone about the economy.

“But no one person can fix it. The president needs a team,” he said. “And if you’ve got a progressive governor, they can make a difference.”

That’s also how Abrams views it. She told the Dalton crowd that she’s running for Georgia’s top office “because I understand we need a governor who is a partner with our president.”

Invoking former President Donald Trump without directly mentioning his name, Abrams said she happily takes responsibility for electing someone “who is not on Twitter every day telling us how terrible we are” and who knows how to “talk like an adult.”

And she contrasted Trump’s election fraud lies with legislation signed by Biden soon after he took office that sent billions of dollars in coronavirus relief funding to Georgia.

“I am very proud of being a citizen in a nation who is willing to stand up for the values of democracy. And so yes, I welcome President Biden,” she said.

“I welcome anyone who wants to lift Georgia up and make us stronger. And I’ll tell you this, if Brian Kemp doesn’t like Joe Biden, he should send back every dollar that Joe Biden sent here.”

About the Author