Stacey Abrams is one win away from making history after her huge Democratic primary victory in the Georgia governor’s race on Tuesday night. If she wins in November, Abrams would be the first African-American woman elected as a governor.
That chance at history, coupled with her surprisingly large primary margin, has turned Abrams into a major Democratic rising star – at least for now.
To find out more about Abrams and see whether she has a real shot to win the general in GOP-friendly Georgia, I reached out to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s star political reporter Greg Bluestein. Our conversation, conducted via email and lightly edited only for flow, is below.
Cillizza: Stacey Abrams was the favorite in Tuesday’s primary. But did anyone think her margin would be so big? And why was it?
Bluestein: That margin was a shocker. Abrams was the odds-on favorite to win the primary – even her opponent, Stacey Evans, released an internal poll showing her trailing a few days ago – but a 53-point victory?!? She might as well have driven a steamroller over her opponent.
Abrams was helped by a string of factors: The tug of history for her quest to be the nation’s first black elected female governor. Her grassroots mobilization strategy targeting left-leaning voters. Her “unapologetic progressive” agenda – which defied a generation of more centrist stances from top state Democrats. A surge of outside cash and support, culminating with Hillary Clinton’s endorsement on Monday. And an opponent who largely staked her campaign on a message about a Georgia scholarship that didn’t resonate with voters.
Cillizza: Abrams remains largely unknown nationally. Tell me about her political career leading up to this point.
Bluestein: Her background has played a prominent role in the campaign. Her parents struggled with poverty while raising Abrams and her five siblings in Gulfport, Mississippi. The family later moved to Atlanta, and Abrams graduated from Spelman College and Yale Law School. She won an Atlanta-based seat in the Georgia House in 2006 and soon became the chamber’s top Democrat. She built a profile as a pragmatic dealmaker, brokering compromises with the Republicans who controlled the legislature on some issues while fighting [them on] others. When criticized by her opponent for cutting those deals, she said her negotiations helped stave off more onerous proposals. When she entered the race in June, she unveiled a progressive platform that she steadily built upon.
Cillizza: How out front was Abrams in the primary about the potentially historic nature of her campaign? Did she tout that she could be the first black woman elected governor of a state? Or not?
Bluestein: Abrams has embraced the historic nature of the campaign while not letting it overshadow her policies. Her supporters and surrogates are much more vocal about it, and she’s benefited from spending from groups such as BlackPAC, which seeks to elect African-American candidates.
Something that often got left out of some of the national coverage: Either candidate would have made history, since Evans would have been the first women from a major party nominated for governor in state history.
Cillizza: Abrams told CNN this morning that Georgia “is a blue state, we’re just a little confused.” Is there evidence to suggest she’s right? Or proof that she’s wrong?
Bluestein: That’s one of her favorite lines! Her argument goes like this: [GOP] Gov. Nathan Deal beat Jason Carter, the Democratic nominee, in 2014 by about 200,000 votes. She contends there are as many as 800,000 left-leaning voters, many of them minorities, who rarely cast ballots in midterms – and who just need to be energized by the right candidate. There’s reason to believe she’s starting to do that: Georgia Republicans outvoted Democrats in the 2014 primary by nearly 300,000 votes. In this contest, the GOP edge was only about 50,000 ballots.
Cillizza: Finish this sentence: “The chances of Stacey Abrams being the next Georgia governor are ____________.” Now, explain.
Bluestein: “Up in the air.”
That’s a squishy answer, I know, but let me explain. The captivating angle about this race, from a Georgia perspective, is that no Democratic candidate for governor has tried [Abrams’] progressive approach or fully embraced her strategy to energize left-leaning voters before.
For instance, Carter – the 2014 nominee – focused mostly on more consensus topics such as boosting K-12 funding. And he ran as an “NRA Democrat.” Abrams has boasted about her “F” grade from the pro-gun group, pledged to end capital punishment, take steps to decriminalize marijuana and pursue a host of other policies that Democrats would have considered unimaginable just a few years ago.
Plus, Republicans are about to embark on a grueling nine-week runoff that will further divide the party. Whoever emerges as the GOP nominee will still be considered the favorite – Republicans have held every statewide office in Georgia since 2011, and the governor’s mansion since 2003 – but Abrams has a chance to upend the state’s politics.