The news that 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams would give the Democratic response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address next Tuesday cements her as a national figure and one of the brightest young stars within the party.
But Abrams’ stardom is a tenuous thing. Yes, she came very, very close to winning the governor’s race and, in the process, becoming the first black woman to be elected governor anywhere in the country. But she fell short. (Some Democrats still insist the race was taken from Abrams by former secretary of state and now governor Brian Kemp; Abrams refused to concede the race but acknowledged that the law didn’t allow her any viable alternatives.)
That loss, no matter how narrow and no matter the extenuating circumstances, goes down on Abrams’ electoral record. That will make her and her team very, very careful about the next race she chooses to run – knowing that a second loss could turn her from star to somebody Democrats used to know.
“Yes, I will run again,” Abrams said at a post-election event in California in December. “What it is I’m going to run for I haven’t decided yet – stay tuned.”
So, what will Abrams run for next? And when? Here are the three options:
1. Senate 2020: Senate Democrats are recruiting Abrams to run against Republican freshman Sen. David Perdue in 2020. Perdue is potentially vulnerable – he’s not terribly well known in the state – and Georgia demographics are moving in Democrats’ direction. But does Trump on the top of the ticket help or hurt Abrams’ chances?
2. Governor 2022: There’s a part of Abrams that likely wants to run again against Kemp to avenge the 2018 loss that many Democrats don’t even think was a loss. But four years is a long time in politics. And if Democrats win the White House in 2020, that could make it harder for her to win.
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3. Vice president 2020: OK, you don’t exactly run for VP. But Abrams seems likely to be a short-lister for almost any of the potential Democratic nominees, given the strength of her 2018 campaign in a Republican-leaning Southern state.
The Point: Like Beto O’Rourke, Abrams was elevated by a narrow loss in 2018. And, like O’Rourke, she needs to make a very careful choice about her next race, or run the risk of losing that ever-elusive buzz and momentum.