Standing among a crowd of about 75 people in a Savannah restaurant parking lot, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams spoke about her platform and addressed Georgians’ concerns about gun violence, immigration and housing.
“I come here because I know coastal Georgia and Savannah, you all face different challenges,” Abrams told supporters as she spoke on education funds and Medicaid expansion.
The small turnout was in sharp contrast to the excitement that surrounded Abrams in the last two election cycles, when she drew large, enthusiastic crowds in campaigning for governor in 2018 and for President Joe Biden and U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in 2020.
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Recapturing that energy is proving a challenge for Abrams in 2022, at least to this point in the campaign season. She’s running unopposed in the Democratic primary while her Republican challengers, led by incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp, are locked in a five-way primary race that makes headlines daily.
Political experts, such as the University of Georgia’s Charles Bullock, anticipate the excitement around Abrams to build heading into the general election.
“I think what it means is that she’s not having to worry about competing somewhat in the primary, they may not be doing the kind of advance work you’d expect them to do,” said Bullock of Abrams’ campaign strategy.
So far, Abram’s other campaign stops included a visit to a closed hospital in Cuthbert, an intimate rooftop gathering in Athens, and a “massive rally” in Midway, according to her campaign.
“Stacey’s “One Georgia” tour events have varied in size and program but have the same goal — to center the communities we are visiting and hear about the issues impacting them,” said Michael Holloman, communications director for Abrams’ campaign.
Yet Abrams’ supporters do worry about the low-energy atmosphere currently surrounding the candidate. Savannah rally attendees Juanita Dixon and her friend Comia Flynn bemoaned the lack of pre-event publicity – Flynn found about Abrams’ appearance through a text message. She said she believed more people would’ve shown up had they known.
“I think we need to rally around more of our young people and really hit the streets, meeting people where they are,” Flynn said.
Dixon agreed, saying the low turnout is motivation for her to contact Savannah residents about campaigning for Abrams, something she urged her supporters to do.
“I try to reach the people to get them to come out, and that’s what I’m gonna do,” Dixon said.
Connecting to voters
Running unopposed has its advantages: For Abrams and fellow top-of-the-ticket Democrat Warnock, running unopposed in the primary signals the Democratic Party’s support. It also means they can focus on building their bases, reaching moderate and independent voters, and learning more about what most concerns residents.
“It gives them opportunity to solidify the Democratic base by campaigning directly to them,” said Tharon Johnson, a Democratic strategist. “During this period of time, at a time when the general election starts, they’ll still campaign to the Democratic base, but they’ve got to grow that base. And they’ve got to go to more moderates, more independents and disaffected Republicans, and get them to try to persuade them to vote for them in November.”
In situations where a candidate is unopposed, it gives them an opportunity to connect with bases and learn their issues. The rally may have been small by past Abrams’ standards, but it demonstrated her engagement with voters, reminiscent of her on-the-ground network heading into November that she got such a lift from four years ago.
“I think, for me, these are voters who watched me work for 11 years in the Legislature, who watched my campaign in 2018 and who also watched the work that I did when I was not elected,” Abrams said. “They are excited about the work that I’ve done, and they are excited about what I will do when I become governor.”
Bullock said while Democrats have a harder time getting voters turnout during the midterm year than Republicans do, Abrams overcame that problem during her 2018 run. “Her strategy in 2018 was to try to get Democrats to turn out at presidential year levels and hope Republicans would turn out at midterm year levels,” He said. “She’s got to kind of work toward that same end of trying to get Democrats enthusiastic.”
A solo ticket also gives Abrams and Warnock time to raise more money. As of May 5, Abrams has raised $11.7 million.
“It unifies the donor base, in Georgia and nationally, for people to give money to their campaigns. They have really sort of short runway to raise his money before they have to enter into a general election against their Republican opponent,” Johnson said.
Engagement for Democratic voters will be key going into the fall to offset the challenges presented by the new voting law. Last year, SB 202 was passed, which changed early voting dates and the absentee ballot request time among other changes.
The changes came on the heels of historic Democratic victories in Georgia, namely the election of Warnock and Ossoff. Johnson, the Democratic political strategist, noted Republicans created the laws and Democrats were able to beat them at their own game.
Abrams’ goal is to reach voters with her One Georgia campaign tour to energize them about the election and taking the time to inform them about Georgia’s new law.
“I have been very, very vocal about my belief that voter suppression is unfortunately baked into this upcoming election, but that we intend to push back. We intend to use every lever at our disposal,” she said.
Abrams’ efforts come as Georgia saw record turnout on the first day of early voting for the 2022 primary election. According to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, more than 27,000 Georgians cast ballots on the opening day of early voting, roughly triple the number that turned out to vote on the first day of the 2018 primary election and almost double the number for the June 2020 primary.
While part of ensuring voter turnout will have to come from Abrams and Warnock educating their voter base on SB 202, Johnson said the other part is the Georgia Secretary of State’s office and local election boards ensuring elections run smoothly. Johnson pointed to a recent article he read in which some ballots contained the wrong candidate names.
The Savannah Morning News previously reported seven ballots, four cast during early voting and three sent out as absentee ballots, included the incorrect Georgia House district race.
“We should not be having these problems when we’ve had ample amount of time to prepare for primaries,” Johnson said. “If we don’t get it right in the primary, then Georgia stands the risk of being on the national stage again for voting irregularities and roadblocks in the upcoming general election, if we don’t fix some of these problems.”
Raisa is a Watchdog and Investigative Reporter for The Savannah Morning News. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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