The suspense builds in Georgia politics after Democrat Stacey Abrams gained new attention by giving her party’s rebuttal to President Trump’s State of the Union address. This may well enhance her chances of running against U.S. Sen. David Perdue or for president.
Abrams, the first black woman to run for governor in the U.S. and the first of her race and gender to deliver a State of the Union response, had a tough assignment following Trump’s speech. He highlighted strong economic growth during his tenure with 5.3 million new jobs created in little more than two years, rising wages, nearly five million Americans lifted off food stamps, unemployment at 4 percent, the lowest rate in more than half a century with African-American, Hispanic-American and Asian-American jobless rates at record lows.
In her response, Abrams ignored the upbeat statistics and sought to identify with working people, the traditional base of the Democrats, stung by widespread defections to Trump in the 2016 election. In trying to recover that ground, national Democrats found in Abrams a way to reach out to the middle class with more “progressive” ideas and Trump bashing.
“In Georgia and around the country,” Abrams asserted, “people are striving for a middle class where a salary truly equals economic security. But instead, families’ hopes are being crushed by Republican leadership that ignores real life or just doesn’t understand it. Under the current administration, far too many hard-working Americans are falling behind, living paycheck to paycheck, most without labor unions to protect them from even worse harm.”
She claimed the Republican tax cuts “rigged the system against working people” and instead of bringing back jobs, “plants are closing, layoffs are looming and wages struggle to keep pace with the actual cost of living.”
Having thus dispensed with the inconvenient truth of the robust economy, Abrams had the chutzpah to declare that bipartisanship — which Democrats have eschewed on every hand in dealing with Trump — “could craft a 21st century immigration plan but this administration chooses to cage children and tear families apart.”
By choosing Abrams for the rebuttal spotlight, Democrats showed they want her to have a prominent role in national politics, hoping she can help keep core supporters hyped up for the 2020 congressional and presidential elections. Abrams knows how to hit the hot button of “voter suppression” and “threats to democracy,” rhetoric that resonates with the Democratic base. She also demonstrated in her race for Georgia governor that she had wide appeal in traditionally Republican suburbs, including Cobb and the other metro counties.
Abrams is being urged by some Democratic chieftains, including Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, to challenge Sen. Perdue in the 2020 election, believing that he might be vulnerable. Trump went on the record in support of his strong ally Perdue, telling reporters: “I think it’s a mistake for her to run against him because I don’t think she can win.” He added: “David Perdue is an incredible senator, if you remember, and will be very hard to beat.”
In the not-too-distant past, Trump’s assessment would have been a foregone conclusion. An incumbent U.S. senator would expect to win re-election handily in Georgia, but this state is changing. If Abrams decides to challenge Perdue — depending on how she reads the tea leaves and the polls — it would make Georgia a national battleground again with Republican control of the Senate at stake. Again, tens of millions of outside dollars would be poured into the race, which most likely would be another nail-biter akin to the 2018 governor’s race.
Abrams has confirmed to supporters that she will run for office again, but “I don’t know for what.” She has set a deadline to make a decision about what office she will seek by the end of March.
So the guessing game continues. But one thing is certain: The days of politics as usual are over in Georgia, due in large measure to Stacey Abrams.