Black voters could push Stacey Abrams to victory in Georgia. Will they?
Written by Lalee Ibssa ABC News on September 23, 2022
(WASHINGTON) — Democrat Stacey Abrams knows by exactly how many votes she narrowly lost to Republican Brian Kemp in the Georgia governor’s race four years ago — and, to hear her tell it, she knows exactly who can help her win in their rematch this fall.
“One-point-six million new voters are added to the rolls after 2018. The margin in the 2018 election was … 54,723 votes. We’ve got 1.6 million opportunities to cover a 54,000 vote spread,” Abrams told reporters at a campaign stop in Athens on Saturday.
As Abrams — a former state lawmaker-turned-voting rights advocate who would be the first Black woman governor in the country’s history — works to mobilize Georgians, she is focusing, she has said, on untapped communities: Asian Americans, Latinos and more.
She has also increasingly emphasized outreach to Black voters, particularly Black male voters, whose crucial support has been wavering, according to some polls.
“If Black men turned out in their numbers and support me at the level they are capable of, I can win this election,” Abrams said at an event in Atlanta earlier this month alongside popular radio host Charlamagne tha God, rapper 21 Savage and civil rights attorney Francys Johnson.
Before her event with Charlamagne and 21 Savage, Abrams campaigned at a Caribbean restaurant with Atlanta-native rapper Yung Joc.
“If you wanted a group of Black man to mobilize, you would not only want to kind of reach out to him and mobilize him but you want to also reach out to the people around him who are his kind of people,” Chryl Laird, an associate professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland at College Park, told ABC News.
In 2018, Abrams won 93% of Black voters, who make up 30% of the Georgia electorate. Black men comprised 14% of voters and chose Abrams over Kemp 88% to 11%, according to exit polling data from ABC News.
Black women made up 16% of Georgia voters and went for Abrams 97% to 2%.
That pattern may not repeat in November — a shift that, given Abrams’ close defeat in 2018, could be decisive.
Kemp led Abrams 50% to 48% according to a poll last week of likely voters conducted by Quinnipiac University. Quinnipiac found that Black men supported Abrams over Kemp 87% to 12%, a 1-point shift, and Black women backed Abrams 94% to 5%, a 3-point drop.
Black conservatives say the reason for the change is clear: They cite Kemp’s COVID-19 response and the state’s economic performance.
“For the Black Georgians who vote and have watched [Kemp] over his last four years, they understand that he’s been a good governor. And if it’s not broke, why do you need to fix it?” Camilla Moore, chairman of the Georgia Black Republican Council, told ABC News.
Out on the campaign trail, Kemp emphasizes that history in his appeal to voters of color.
“I told people from day one what I was gonna do when I ran in 2018. A lot of people didn’t really know who I was then. I got defined by a candidate that had twice as much money as I did, had the national media in her back pocket and never could really fight through that. And it’s a different story now. Because I have a great record that I think resonates with all Georgians,” Kemp said at a campaign stop at the University of Georgia on Sep. 10.
Abrams downplayed concerns about the polling while at an event over the weekend, arguing that the disengaged and newly registered voters were key to persuade.
Still, she acknowledged there was space to drive up Black voter turnout — and she linked their potential apathy to the state’s recent decades under GOP leadership.
“We know that there are still thousands and thousands of voters who are not engaged, especially Black voters. And we know that that is in part because of 20 years of Republican rule convincing Black voters that we’ve gotten everything we’re going to get,” she said.
‘If you show up, things really will change’
In recent weeks, as Abrams works to expand her base of support, she has hosted events with Asian-Americans, Latinos and voters with disabilities, among others.
“I’m not going to leave any community untouched and unconnected with,” she told reporters at the event with Charlamagne that was geared toward Black men.
On Sunday, Abrams led a fireside chat focused on gun violence in the Asian community, a group that has become the fastest-growing population of eligible voters in the country.
She was joined alongside families who’ve lost loved ones to gun violence, with much of the event centered around the Georgia spa mass shootings in March 2021.
“What is dismissed as a cultural conversation but must be understood as an issue of health care, of economics, of morality. We have the responsibility in the state to protect our people, and that protection should not be limited,” she said.
Abrams also spoke at Atlanta’s yearly celebration of Mexican Independence Day, attended the Asian Student Alliance Conference and has hosted several Latino-owned small business roundtables across Georgia.
Her campaign plans to use these events as an opportunity to earn the votes of communities that they feel have been left out of the political conversation, treating them as persuasion communities which, speaking to the 19th at the Buckhead Theater, Abrams described as people who need to be convinced to show up to the polls — not who to vote for.
“If you show up, things really will change,” Abrams said Monday.
She is right on the reality of Georgia’s changing electorate, which has given her campaign an opportunity to court new or infrequent voters.
Though Black voters still make up a significant share of voters, the number of active voters who are Hispanic and Asian grew in recent years to 4% and 3%, respectively, according to a report from Georgia’s secretary of state.
In the upcoming weeks, Abrams plans to hold a reproductive rights event focused on AAPI women, a Vietnamese roundtable, and speak at the Georgia Latino Film Festival.
“This is one of the first times that we’ve really had an opportunity to sit down with someone who was running for a major seat and talk about these issues,” Rhea Wunsch, a Georgia college student and gun reform activist told ABC News, during Abrams’ event with Asian Americans on Sunday.
While Abrams may downplay the polling, surveys show her push to persuade voters has some limits that Kemp doesn’t face: A Monmouth University poll released Thursday found that she has a smaller ceiling to gain swayable voters’ support compared to her opponent. Kemp had a lower unfavorable rating, according to Monmouth, and more Georgia voters had definitely ruled out voting for her (46%) over him (37%).
However, that poll showed Abrams has greater support from her party than Kemp does form his: 83% of Democrats said they will definitely vote for Abrams while 73% of Republicans said they will definitely back Kemp.
Abrams also sees a pathway to victory through infrequent voters and has been working for years on the ground to register voters — efforts that other Democrats have credited, in part, with driving up turnout in the 2020 election cycle that saw both Senate seats flip blue.
“It’s not about whether they’re voting Republican or Democrat. It’s whether they believe voting can work for them. And I want them to know that if they vote for me for governor, things that are going to be different,” Abrams said Saturday.
Low-propensity voters are who, some experts say, will make the difference in the gubernatorial election, and it’s a bloc that may not be reflected in polls.
“This race is going to come down to a few thousand votes. And so when you look at which candidate is going granular and finding — literally meeting — every eligible voter, it is Stacey. And the polls aren’t going to represent that granularity,” said Hillary Holley, executive director of Care in Action, a nonpartisan group advocating for domestic workers.
But Black voters — and Black male voters — remain key
Some advocates emphasize that courting Black voters will also be crucial for Abrams
“I don’t want voters of color, Black voters and brown voters, to carry that weight by ourselves like the fate of democracy is just on Black voters here in Georgia,” Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, told ABC News.
“You could not have seen the ‘Georgia miracle’ in the last election cycle without the turnout and participation from Black voters,” Albright said, referring to the victory of Democratic Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.
“It’s going to take Black voters to have large turnout in order for this state to continue on the Democratic path,” he said.
Throughout her campaign, Abrams has sought to energize Black male support through “Stacey and the Fellas” events and by touting policies geared toward them such as expanding Medicaid and establishing a small business investment fund in her “Black Men’s Agenda.” (The campaign also plans in the coming weeks to release agendas for Georgia’s Latino and Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.)
At Abrams’ event with Charlamagne and others, a crowd of mostly Black men packed a production studio warehouse, filled with food, music and apparel. Community members cheered Abrams as she discussed a host of topics, from free technical college to supporting Georgia’s booming entertainment industry.
“What Stacey has done as far as mobilizing people and bringing people together to come out and vote has been incredible,” Charlamagne said.
Some voters said they, too, were encouraged.
“She understands the challenges of Black men in America but especially here in Georgia,” said Paul Grant, a teacher in Lawrenceville. “And I think of all the candidates running, I don’t know of anyone who will have a better understanding of what’s needed to help Black men in Georgia. I know it’s a priority.”
Dontay Palmer, a nursing student at Georgia State University, agreed in lauding Abrams’ efforts but noted that it may not translate to more ballots bearing her name.
“I like it. I think it’s really cool. It’s just getting everybody out,” Palmer told ABC News of the outreach.
“We just don’t have the information or access,” Palmer continued. “So I love it that even if they’re not going to vote for her, she’s like, ‘Hey, get information about the election.'”
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