Stacey Abrams gives Democratic response to State of the Union in national audition
Stacey Abrams wowed Democratic activists with her narrow loss last year in Georgia’s governor’s race.
The rest of the country will get a chance to see her work her political magic Tuesday when she delivers the English-language Democratic response to President Trump’s State of the Union address.
Most analysts see it as an audition for the 45-year-old’s next role, whether that be making another run at the governor’s mansion in 2022, challenging Republican Sen. David Perdue in 2020 or even running against Mr. Trump.
The final tally showed Ms. Abrams lost to Republican Brian Kemp by 1.4 percentage points in November. After two weeks of battling and complaints that the vote was tainted, she gave up her fight for the Statehouse though she said she was not conceding.
Instead, she said, democracy failed voters of her state a message that Democrats are trying to spread nationally. They argue that elections have been stolen by voter-ID laws, big campaign spending and foreign meddling.
“Everyone knows that the race that she ran was exemplary and that, but for irregularities throughout the process of the run-up to the election ... she would be the winner,” Rep. Hank Johnson, a fellow Georgia Democrat, said last week on Capitol Hill.
“So that is why people are looking at her,” Mr. Johnson said. “She is a fresh face and a breath of fresh air to the nation. As the demographics of the nation change, she represents that kind of change.”
Ms. Abrams wasn’t the only Democratic martyr of 2018. Texas senatorial loser Beto O’Rourke and Florida gubernatorial loser Andrew Gillum also emerged from their failed bids with analysts saying they had high political ceilings.
Yet Mr. Gillum, who took a job as a CNN contributor, now faces a stinging ethics investigation for campaign irregularities, and Mr. O’Rourke is trying to find his political footing now that he is out of a day job in Congress.
Ms. Abrams, meanwhile, has become a leading voice in the voting debate, including writing a weighty piece in Foreign Affairs taking on academic powerhouse Francis Fukuyama over identity politics.
“Americans must thoughtfully pursue an expanded, identity-conscious politics,” she wrote. “New, vibrant, noisy voices represent the strongest tool to manage the growing pains of multicultural coexistence. By embracing identity and its prickly, uncomfortable contours, Americans will become more likely to grow as one.”
Democrats say Ms. Abrams’ staying power derives largely from the belief that her loss to Mr. Kemp was unfair. They point to his purge of the voting rolls, which he said state law demanded, in the run-up to the election. But for that, Democrats say, Ms. Abrams would have become the nation’s first female black governor.
Looking ahead, some in Georgia want Ms. Abrams to take on Mr. Perdue next year.
“There are folks who take the approach of ‘strike while it is hot,’” said Michael Owens, chairman of the Cobb [County] Democrats in Georgia. “We think we can win the seat. So that has people energized.”
Jay Williams, a Georgia-based Republican Party strategist, said Ms. Abrams’ proven fundraising prowess could create problems for Mr. Perdue but that it is “going to be hard for her to catch lightning in a bottle twice.”
“While Abrams certainly has momentum if one can have that after a loss David Perdue is a much different candidate, and this is a much different kind of race,” said Mr. Williams, adding that the Democrat was able to capitalize on Mr. Kemp’s missteps. “Perdue likely won’t be doing shotgun ads to win a primary, and he’ll be much more appealing to suburban voters Kemp conceded to Abrams.”
Mr. Perdue’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported last month that Ms. Abrams recently traveled to Washington to discuss a Senate bid with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, the newly minted chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
The DSCC didn’t respond to an inquiry about the meeting.
Mr. Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, last week announced Ms. Abrams as their party’s State of the Union first responder.
“I am very, very, pleased,” Rep. John Lewis, a Democratic civil rights icon from Georgia, told The Washington Times. “She is so smart, and so able, and she will deliver a great message.”
Ms. Abrams is following in the footsteps of Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III of Massachusetts, whose response to Mr. Trump’s speech last year is perhaps best remembered for his heavy use of lip gloss.
Ms. Abrams said she will use the Democratic response as an opportunity to spread her democracy message.
“I plan to deliver a vision for prosperity and equality, where everyone in our nation has a voice and where each of those voices is heard,” she said in an email to supporters.