On November 17, 2018, Stacey Abrams, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Georgia, stated in a blistering concession speech, “Democracy failed Georgia.”
The state race for governor had earned national attention, with Abrams, who would have been the first African American governor of Georgia, competing against the eventual winner, conservative Republican Brian Kemp.
Despite losing in 2018, Abrams has cultivated her political profile, both as an advocate for fair elections and as a potential candidate for national office. Abrams is one of the names frequently bandied about as a potential vice president on Joe Biden’s likely presidential ticket. If that happens, it would represent a fairly sudden ascent for Abrams onto the biggest stage in American politics.
The political ascendancy of Stacey Abrams
During her gubernatorial candidacy, the then-44-year-old Abrams was the subject of numerous profile pieces, like a July 2018 article in Time. The profiles painted her as the future of the Democratic Party, a progressive black woman who had the potential to make history in a conservative Southern state.
Those profiles also introduced a woman whose political career began at a young age but who was only then reaching a widespread audience.
Abrams was born in Wisconsin, raised in Mississippi and moved to Atlanta, Georgia during her high school years when her parents joined a Methodist seminary. She was a high school valedictorian and attended Spelman College in Atlanta. At 18, Abrams was already politically involved, helping found Students for African-American Empowerment (SAAE) and volunteering for a congressional campaign.
During a political demonstration, she burned a Georgia flag, which at the time included the Confederate Battle Flag design. She received angry calls in response, including from a woman who told her that “if black people didn’t like the flag, get the hell out.”
After completing degrees at Spelman College and the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, Abrams earned a law degree at Yale Law School and worked in tax law for the city of Atlanta. She was simultaneously involved in other business ventures, including writing romance novels under the name Selena Montgomery.
In 2006, following the retirement of Democrat JoAnn McClinton, Abrams successfully won a seat in the Georgia House of Representatives. She held the seat from 2007 to 2017. In 2011, she became the minority leader, making her the first African American woman to lead in the Georgia House.
Up until 2018, her political career had involved brief moments in the spotlight, but none compared to the national attention she received when running for governor.
The aftermath of the Georgia gubernatorial election
Winning the Georgia governorship was always going to be an uphill battle for Abrams in such a conservative state. Beyond standard state politics, Abrams was also facing the endorsement of her competitor by President Donald Trump and the fact that Kemp, then Secretary of State, was purging names from the voter roll, an act that resulted in a lawsuit for alleged racial discrimination.
Still, in the run-up to the election, Abrams was polling side-by-side with Kemp and the election was considered a toss-up. By the end of election day on November 6, Kemp had just under 55,000 more votes than Abrams. Even with late-arriving absentee ballots narrowing Kemp’s lead, Abrams did not have enough votes to call for a runoff election or recount. She conceded on November 17.
Abrams’ defiant concession speech called out the “incompetence and mismanagement” of the election and laid the foundation for a continued political fight. “As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede,” she said, “but my assessment is that the law currently allows no further viable remedy.”
Instead of dragging out the election, Abrams used her speech to announce the creation of Fair Fight Georgia, a program that aims to “encourage voter participation in elections, and educate voters about elections and their voting rights.” It is also dedicated to fighting voter suppression efforts that Democrats allege Republicans are engaged in during the 2020 election.
Stacey Abrams for vice president?
During a presidential debate on March 15, Biden vowed to pick a woman to be his vice presidential running mate. Since then, there has been considerable speculation over who it could be, with many in the party saying the choice should be a woman of color. Multiple reports have suggested that Abrams is actively campaigning to be the VP pick.
Though Abrams has become one of the frontrunner contenders for the VP slot on Biden’s potential ticket, she is hardly a consensus pick. Critics from both conservative and liberal camps have said that she would be the wrong choice.
Writing for The Washington Post, Marc Thiessen, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, said Abrams “would displace Sarah Palin as the least-qualified person ever to serve on a major-party ticket.” He argued, in light of Biden’s advanced age and alleged health issues, that Biden’s VP needs to be prepared to be president. Abrams would not be prepared, Thiessen believes.
The Atlantic reported in April that some opposition to Abrams being VP is from the Congressional Black Caucus, a group of 54 black members of congress. All 54 are Democrats who have won national office. Many object to Abrams’ selection because it would indicate that the 27 female members of the CBC had been overlooked for a woman with no national political experience.
Yet, as The Atlantic article puts it, “With the exception of Senator Kamala Harris, no female member of the Congressional Black Caucus has anywhere near the kind of national name recognition that Abrams has.”
Whether Biden ultimately picks Abrams, it’s indisputable that her work has already made her one of the most recognizable women in modern politics.
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