Stacey Abrams had one consistent message when she joined former President Jimmy Carter on Tuesday outside a rural health center in his hometown of Plains: Expanding Medicaid in Georgia will be her top priority if elected governor.
But her campaign event with Carter sent another signal, too, of the shifting political winds that have swept up Democrats both nationally and locally. She’s proud of her party’s progressive roots — and will continue to embrace them as her November race against Republican Brian Kemp nears.
And Carter embraced her right back with glee, smiling as he opened his remarks to make clear that he and his wife, Rosalynn, had endorsed Abrams because “she stands in diametric opposition” to Kemp on health care issues.
“This should be a top priority for all Georgians,” he said as the former first lady cooled herself with an Abrams-emblazoned fan.
While Abrams has a legendary figure from the past on her side, she’s still keeping her focus on this generation’s key voters:
In “Sweet Auburn”, a short walk from the birthplace and stone tomb of Martin Luther King Jr, salon owner Terrica Jones is silking hair with a ceramic iron and contemplating an opportunity that once seemed unthinkable: to vote for a black woman to lead Georgia, a deep south state haunted by slavery and segregation.
“When I was growing up, it would have been a dream,” says Jones, 41, an African American in Atlanta. “Today I think anybody can be governor. The important thing is you have to have the heart to do it.”
A decade after Barack Obama became America’s first black president, Stacey Abrams is bidding to become its first black female governor. But standing in the Democrat’s way in Georgia, where all 82 governors have been white men, is Brian Kemp, a Republican unapologetically borrowing from Donald Trump’s populist playbook. Kemp has described the November election as a battle for “literally the soul of our state” – he might have added that it is a battle for the soul of the nation.
As Obama and Trump hit the campaign trail for the midterm elections, in what is likely to be cast as an existential struggle between hope and fear, Abrams and Kemp are perhaps their most vivid avatars. With tensions around gender and race, allegations of voter suppression and radically different policies on education, healthcare, immigration, gun rights and worker protections, the result will reverberate across the country and could help define the contours of the 2020 presidential election.
Abrams, 44, is hoping to ride a widely predicted “blue wave” in this year’s midterms. Some Democrats are women, some are people of colour, some belong to a younger generation and some embrace progressive policies. Abrams is all four. She is also one of six siblings who grew up in Gulfport, Mississippi, a Yale law graduate, a former state legislative leader and the award-winning author of eight romantic suspense novels under the pen name Selena Montgomery.
She is counting on support in Atlanta, the thriving state capital where skyscrapers include the headquarters of CNN and Coca-Cola. For Jones, who runs the Formulas Hair and Beauty Bar on Auburn Avenue, a historic main street of black businesses and homes (described in 1956 by Fortune magazine as “the richest street in the world for Negroes”), the symbolism of Abrams’ candidacy is less important than bread-and-butter concerns such as healthcare. She is currently unable to afford a monthly premium of $368. “Luckily, I’m healthy,” she said. Like many progressive Democrats, Abrams has promised an ambitious healthcare expansion.
Past a mural of the local congressman and civil rights hero John Lewis is the church where King preached, then his final resting place sitting atop a blue reflection pool near an eternal flame and gift shop. Vony Tza, a 33-year-old business owner visiting the site last Wednesday, is another Abrams supporter.
“As a black woman, it’s my duty to vote for her,” she explained. “It’s a way to move forward and, even if she wasn’t running, I would be voting against her opponent.”
Nearby is the Victorian house where King was born and lived until he was 12. Whitney Miller, 30, a soldier, who brought her 10-year-old son, Elijah, on a guided tour, said she intends to vote for Abrams.
“I like the things she values and, to be honest, I would like to see an African American woman in that position. After all our plight in life and politics, it would a great image for African Americans to see. We have a limitless future.”
And like in many other races across the nation, Democrats are using health care as the issue to attack Brian Kemp (D. GA):
State Democrats are ramping up their attacks on Brian Kemp over health care with a new ad, saying the GOP nominee for governor has failed to present a detailed plan to address the issue critical to millions of Georgians.
The ad keys off a recent television news report, saying the “issue” page on Kemp’s campaign website devotes only seven words to health care. It is funded by the Democratic Party of Georgia and was made public Tuesday.
Georgia is one of 17 states that have refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Health Care Act. Kemp’s Democratic rival, Stacey Abrams, is vowing to reverse that.
Let’s keep up the momentum and win this race. Click below to donate and get involved with Abrams and her fellow Georgia Democrats’ campaigns: