What now for Stacey Abrams? Democrat faces uncertain future after second loss

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

After Stacey Abrams’ first election defeat in 2018, Gov. Brian Kemp liked to joke that she became even more famous than him. She spoke to sold-out venues around the globe, was courted by powerful politicians and was vetted to be Joe Biden’s running mate.

But her future after a second loss to Kemp is far more uncertain. Her campaign struggled to rebuild the same electoral coalition that fueled her near miss four years ago and set the stage for Democratic victories in 2020.

This time, the race was no nail-biter. She lost 53% to 46% to Kemp, and her approval ratings in Georgia nose-dived amid attacks that tied “Celebrity Stacey” to Biden’s low popularity in the state.

Now she must decide whether to stay politically involved or venture into a more private life. For most high-powered candidates who suffer a political loss, that’s no easy question. But for Abrams, who has long dreamed of running for president, making a third try at a top office carries even more risk.

Not surprisingly, she offered few hints on Tuesday as she delivered a concession speech — a step she famously didn’t take in 2018 when she ended her campaign.

“I may no longer be seeking the office of governor, but I will never stop doing everything in my power to make sure the people in Georgia have a voice,” she said. “While I may have not crossed the finish line, that doesn’t mean that I won’t stop running for a better Georgia.”

Abrams has few immediate options if she wants to seek another elected office in Georgia. No statewide seats are up for election in 2024, and longtime incumbents fill the Democratic-leaning U.S. House districts that will be up for grabs. Many Democrats will want a fresh start in 2026.

Some of Abrams’ allies suggest she could compete for the seat held by U.S. Rep. David Scott should he retire, particularly given her background as a former Democratic leader in the Georgia House.

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Abrams, however, has long framed herself as someone more suited toward executive office rather than a return to the legislative branch. After bypassing a U.S. Senate bid in 2019, for instance, she said she won’t run for a seat simply “because the job is available.”

She could also jockey for a position on Biden’s Cabinet. While other Democrats in battleground states bolted from Biden, Abrams maintained her support for the president and focused on issues, such as affordable housing, that often don’t factor into statewide races.

Still, those jobs come with their own pitfalls.

“She’s earned the opportunity to serve the Biden administration,” said Heath Garrett, a veteran GOP strategist.

“However, it’s a long fall from grace to be considered for vice president or a future presidential candidate and then to take secretary of HUD,” he added, referring to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. “It’s very difficult to stay relevant in one of those positions.”

She has other ways to influence the political discussion, such as taking a gig as a TV pundit or returning to her roots in policy advocacy.

When she ended her campaign in 2018, she launched the political organization that would be known as Fair Fight Action.

The Atlanta-based group once aspired to build a national footprint while also promoting Abrams’ political priorities. But despite quickly becoming a fundraising juggernaut, it has struggled to become the political powerhouse that Abrams once envisioned.

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

The group launched a far-ranging legal challenge against Georgia’s election law that was rejected by a federal judge. And a Politico investigation found the group spent more than $9 million on legal fees that went to a close Abrams ally’s law firm, mostly for work on a single case.

Some suggest that she could return to the organization, which she left before launching her rematch against Kemp, to rehabilitate her image and expand her advocacy efforts.

“It already has a very strong footprint,” Emory University political scientist Andra Gillespie said. “But making it one of the leading civil rights organizations that focuses on voting rights is probably a viable strategy.”