Along the way, Abrams was considered as a potential running mate for Biden and became a highly sought-after public speaker and author worth more than $3 million who now has investments in technology and a solar startup.
But she has also kept her eye on the governorship since her last run for office. “It was soon clear to me that the work still needed to be done and that the direction that Gov. (Brian) Kemp was taking the state in was not consistent with what I believe the state needs,” Abrams said.
If Abrams prevails in her race against Kemp, she will make history as the first Black governor of Georgia and the first Black woman to serve as governor of any state.
But she faces significant challenges to gain enough support among voters, who have put Republicans in the Governor’s Mansion since 2003 and given the GOP a strong majority in the state Legislature.
How the AJC covers politics and elections
Providing Georgians with the information they need to participate fully in democracy is our highest goal. AJC reporters strive for fairness and accuracy. They do not support political parties and are not allowed to endorse, contribute to or campaign for candidates or political causes.
Reporters and editors are members of the communities they live in and are encouraged to vote, but they work to be aware of their own views and preferences and carry out their jobs in an independent, non-partisan way. As we scrutinize public officials and issues, we hold each other accountable for doing so from a position of independence.
We work hard to be evenhanded and fair, and we invite you to let us know how we’re doing.
Even if Abrams were to win the race for governor, the likely Republican majorities in Georgia’s House and Senate mean it could be difficult for her to accomplish some of her key campaign promises — including expanding Medicaid.
“Know that what I say I’m going to do, I’m going to do,” Abrams said at a recent campaign event.
That’s easier said than done, according to University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock.
“It will be a challenging situation where she will have to negotiate every step of the way,” Bullock said.
That’s not entirely unfamiliar territory for Abrams.
“As a legislator she had the reputation of being able to work in a bipartisan fashion,” Bullock said. “Both Republicans and Democrats would say she was probably the smartest person over there ... (and) would come to her and ask her to explain complex legislation.”
But for those who see Abrams as a hero of the left and would expect her to deliver on Democratic priorities such as expanding Medicaid and repealing Georgia’s restrictive abortion law and permitless gun rights statute as she has vowed, the political realities could bring disappointment.
“She’s not going to have a majority in the House, she’s not going to have a majority in the Senate, and it’s not going to happen,” said Fran Millar, a Republican from Dunwoody who left the state Legislature in 2019.
Expanding Medicaid and repealing the abortion and gun laws “are just not in tune with where we are in the state,” Millar said, adding that’s why he also think Abrams won’t win against Kemp.
State Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, said Abrams is “attempting to divert attention away from what voters really care about, and that is the harmful economic impact of the Biden administration’s failed economic policies, and I expect that those are the issues that the Legislature is going to focus on.”
Abrams also wants to legalize sports betting and casino gambling to expand HOPE scholarships. She has pledged to use Georgia’s $6.6 billion budget surplus to fund some of her key initiatives, including raises for teachers and law enforcement officers and a $1 billion tax refund to many Georgians. But some key elements of her platform would require cooperation from the Legislature.
When asked about the likelihood of an expansion of Medicaid if Abrams is elected governor, state Rep. Carolyn Hugley, a Columbus Democrat who was Abrams’ top deputy in the House, said: “I would never underestimate Stacey Abrams. ... I think there is a possibility it will happen.”
“Stacey Abrams has proven that she can fight. And when she becomes governor she will have to prove she can lead and she can govern,” Hugley said. “Those are two different things.”
Abrams, for her part, said she is “absolutely certain” she can expand Medicaid, adding that most legislators want to get more people on the public health plan. And she has aimed to channel frustration over the state’s anti-abortion restrictions and permissive gun policies into votes.
But Abrams noted that her first priorities will be “making certain we are taking care of the fundamental issues in Georgia,” including education, jobs and affordable housing.
It wouldn’t be the first time a Georgia governor has dealt with a divided government. Early in Republican Sonny Perdue’s first term as governor starting in 2003, Democrats had the majority in the Georgia House. But in Perdue’s time, Republicans held the majority in the Senate and some Georgia Democrats in office were conservatives, Bullock said.
Today, for Abrams, “liberal Republicans don’t exist,” Bullock said. If she were elected governor, Republicans could work to obstruct her.
Abrams also would face the challenge of gaining the trust of legislators across the aisle after Fair Fight spent the past four years suing Georgia’s Republican leadership and accusing Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger of voter suppression and unconstitutional election policies.
In her 2018 campaign for governor, Abrams lost to Kemp with 49% of the vote and delivered an election night speech in which she did not concede — a move that has dogged her during this year’s campaign as critics compare her to election deniers who say Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election.
In the wake of Kemp’s win, Fair Fight called for a federal judge to overturn state laws, alleging that statutes resulted in purged registrations, canceled ballots and other obstacles to voting. On Sept. 30, a federal judge ruled against Fair Fight in the remaining parts of its voting rights lawsuit.
After the judge’s decision, Kemp tweeted that Abrams had “used this lawsuit to line her pockets, sow distrust in our democratic institutions, and build her own celebrity.”
It’s no surprise that Abrams has been derided by Republicans. But Abrams also has some detractors in her own party.
As minority leader, “she sometimes made decisions that actually angered the progressive wing of the Georgia General Assembly,” Emory University political scientist Andra Gillespie said. “I don’t think she’s the type of person that would let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
Abrams says she once took a tea party leader out to lunch, for example, to discuss environmental legislation and its impact on property values. And she partnered with Republican state Rep. Tommy Benton — who called the Ku Klux Klan “not so much a racist thing but a vigilante thing to keep law and order” — to advocate for kinship child care.
Kendra King Momon, associate provost and professor of politics at Oglethrope University, said, “Inevitably in this role she’s going to disappoint” some Democrats, at the national level and among voters.
“Because at some point, in order to pass some of this legislation — perhaps some of the more controversial hot topic legislation — she may have to concede a bit from what she proposed in order to get Republican support,” Momon said.
About Stacey Abrams
Born: Madison, Wisconsin, before moving to Gulfport, Mississippi, as a child
- Georgia House representative, 2007-2017
- House minority leader, 2011-2017
- Founded voting rights organization Fair Fight Action in 2018
- Author of 2018 book “Minority Leader: How to Lead from the Outside and Make Real Change” and 2020 book “Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America” — as well as eight romantic suspense novels, political thriller “While Justice Sleeps” and children’s book “Stacey’s Extraordinary Words”
- Expand Medicaid in Georgia
- Legalize sports betting to expand the HOPE scholarship and fund need-based financial aid for higher education
- Use state budget surplus, which has reached $6.6 billion, to fund health care, teacher raises, public safety, small businesses and agriculture — with a pledge to not raise taxes
About our coverage
The AJC is committed to ensuring that Georgians are fully educated about the candidates for governor and others who seek public office. It is critical that voters know where each candidate stands on important issues, what moneyed interests might influence them and whether the candidates have behaved ethically. Today’s focus is on Democrat Stacey Abrams.
The newspaper will, over the course of this election cycle, focus on each of the candidates. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newsroom will:
· Conduct deep background investigations with an eye toward past behavior and any potential conflicts that might raise questions on or provide insight into how a candidate might perform.
· Publish profiles of each candidate aimed at understanding each candidate’s personal life, background, influences and qualifications.
· Attend forums and debates throughout the election cycle so you know how the candidates are staking out their positions and answering urgent questions. To access the newspaper’s ongoing coverage of politics, visit ajc.com/politics.