Stacey Abrams focuses on next step, Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoffs

Former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is considered the architect who helped make Joe Biden's victory in the state possible. She is now focused on Georgia's U.S. Senate runoffs on Jan. 5. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is considered the architect who helped make Joe Biden's victory in the state possible. She is now focused on Georgia's U.S. Senate runoffs on Jan. 5. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

During her tenure as Democratic leader of the Georgia House, Stacey Abrams rarely showed up to meetings with party officials or donors without a copy of a PowerPoint presentation outlining a 10-year strategy to combat the GOP’s domination in state politics.

In 20 slides, Abrams identified Democrats' problems — lack of a clear message, reluctance to capitalize off Republicans' shortcomings, disorganization — and described how to fix them and win races across the state.

Abrams' playbook got her closer to the Governor’s Mansion than any other Democrat in nearly 20 years, and is credited with helping the party deliver Georgia’s 16 Electoral College votes to Joe Biden.

Now, her strategy is being put to its biggest test. Can she help flip both of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats in January’s runoffs? Republicans are intent on holding these seats and therefore preserving control of the chamber, and Democrats are the underdogs in both races.

Abrams plans to campaign across Georgia with the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, who are challenging Loeffler and U.S. Sen. David Perdue, respectively. And she is involved in the behind-the-scenes strategy sessions and fundraising that are crucial to successful campaigns.

Her shorthand for the next eight weeks: mission, message and money.

“It’s about raising the money; we need to support these elections,” Abrams recently told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’s about building even more deeply the capacity of organizations to do this work. And it’s about making certain that voters understand what’s at stake.”

Republicans are eager to tie Abrams to Warnock and Ossoff. They say Abrams' progressive ideas are too far left for most Georgians and her support for Warnock and Ossoff indicates they would be, too. And they challenge the notion that she is powerful enough to deliver both of Georgia’s Senate seats for Democrats.

Brian Robinson, a Republican strategist, said Abrams has shown great talent but her influence has been overstated by national media.

“Stacey Abrams cannot send a tweet and determine the future of the election; Donald Trump can, to some degree," he said. "I find it hard to believe that Stacey Abrams is decisive in this election, and that is not to diminish what she has accomplished and her influence. It is significant.”

Biden’s win in Georgia has increased national attention on Abrams and curiosity about her future. National outlets have published reports recently of allies predicting a rematch against Gov. Brian Kemp in 2022, a move that has been long anticipated in Georgia.

Abrams refuses to entertain those discussions at the moment, at least publicly.

“I’ve got time to figure that out,” she said. “But right now, my focus is on winning these races.”

Abrams is quick to point out that she is part of a team that includes the state and national Democratic parties, as well as groups such as the Abrams-founded New Georgia Project, the NAACP, the Working Families Party and the Movement for Black Lives.

Her reach and her visibility right now are unmatched. Ted Terry, the first vice chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, described Abrams as a crucial player in a ballgame that is now in overtime.

“You want to have your MVP in the game,” Terry said. "We have candidates that are great, but they have to have a supporting cast of other MVPs. And, without a doubt, Stacey is one of our top MVPs.”

She endorsed and campaigned for Ossoff and Warnock during the general election, even pressuring other Democrats in the crowded special election to step aside and ensure Warnock proceeded to the runoff. Ossoff, who owns an investigative media company, said Abrams' backing remains a crucial piece of his campaign.

“Stacey’s efforts will be vital to our success in these runoffs," he said. “Her resources, volunteers, her presence on the campaign trail and her strong investment in dual victories here are absolutely essential. And I’m honored by her support and grateful for all that she is doing."

In just the first three days of the runoff season, Abrams raised $6 million for Ossoff and Warnock, largely based off her big social media following.

Georgia State University political science professor Amy Steigerwalt said Abrams became a touchstone partially because she has always stayed true to her core mission: engaging voters to help Democrats win in Georgia.

“Her sort of laser focus on this issue meant that she brought everything back to it,” Steigerwalt said. "She is incredibly good at doing that and keeping people focused on the core question, the core issues, the core focus that we need to address before we get to the next thing.”

Maurice Mitchell, the Working Families Party’s national director, said organizations working alongside Abrams all have different roles during the runoff season. Abrams' Fair Fight focuses on legal work to protect voting rights while the New Georgia Project registers voters. His organization is partnered with the Movement for Black Lives and United We Dream on get-out-to-vote events and canvassing.

“We plan on redoubling our efforts,” Mitchell said about the runoffs. "We are going to be on the ground and building a volunteer corps of Georgians to make sure people have PPE, water and feel safe during early voting and on election day.”

Abrams built an infrastructure for these groups and gave them strategies to win, Mitchell said. Now, they hope to harness that energy through the Jan. 5 runoff.

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