Why Joe Biden's Surprising Georgia Lead Has So Many People Talking About Stacey Abrams
Abrams, a former candidate for governor, has spent years turning out the vote in Georgia, but she says the credit of registering voters goes to others as well
In late 2018, Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams seemed to many like she was poised for another campaign — potentially in the U.S. Senate — after narrowly losing the state's gubernatorial election in a bid that earned her national attention.
Instead of hitting the trail again, however, she has been working to get out the vote, leading efforts to increase registration in Georgia in a years-long push to prove her argument that the state, a Republican stronghold, is much bluer than it appears.
Turns out, she was right.
Even if Joe Biden's narrow election lead in Georgia over Republican incumbent Donald Trump doesn't hold, he upended the conventional wisdom by performing better there than a Democrat has in decades, thanks to overwhelming margins favoring Biden across the state's cities and suburbs.
And while the votes in Georgia (which is almost certainly headed for a recount in the coming weeks) may ultimately tip toward Trump, the close race signals a new political landscape for Republicans who have long relied on the Peach State to put them over the edge.
Analysts say Abrams' efforts were integral in helping morph the historically red state into a battleground. And as Biden overtook Trump in Georgia early Friday, many of his supporters on Twitter echoed praise for Abrams.
Below, a look back at her career so far and what her push to register Georgia voters may mean for the future of the state.
What People Are Saying About Stacey Abrams
As Biden's slim lead over Trump began materializing on Friday morning, Democrats, celebrities, and local officials shouted out Abrams, 46, for her work in increasing registration.
"Whatever happens in Georgia, everyone should get on their knees and thank strong Black women like the fearless @StaceyAbrams and so many who slog away without appreciation," Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal tweeted.
Others, including Hillary Clinton, Viola Davis and LeBron James, also mentioned Abrams.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler tweeted on Friday that the model built by Abrams was used in other states, as well.
"There's a lot of totally correct talk about how she was pivotal to winning Georgia," Wikler wrote. "Folks: Stacey & her team were pivotal to flipping Wisconsin too. And every other battleground. They worked with us to build massive, supercharged voter protection teams—starting *early.*"
Stacey Abrams' Political Career
Abrams served as a Democrat in the Georgia House of Representatives from 2007 to 2017 and was the minority leader from 2011 to 2017. (She previously worked as an attorney and also writes romance and thrillers in her spare time.)
She gained national attention after running as the Democratic Party's nominee in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election. She lost the bitterly fought race by a narrow margin of 1.4 points amid allegations that Republicans suppressed the vote, which they denied.
In February 2019, Abrams became the first African-American woman to deliver a response to the State of the Union address. She was also briefly considered as a possible running mate for Biden, before he ultimately selected California Sen. Kamala Harris.
Instead of running for another office, though, Abrams decided to focus on something that she said had haunted her own gubernatorial race: voter suppression.
Why She’s Being Lauded and What She's Said About Voting
Six years ago, while still in the state legislature, Abrams founded the New Georgia Project, a nonprofit voter registration group. Later, she founded Fair Fight, an organization geared at fighting voter suppression.
After her narrow loss in 2018, Abrams continued to focus on voting rights, founding Fair Fight, which lobbies for new election laws and targets challenges to voting that disproportionately affect minority voters (such as long lines, precinct closures and purged voter rolls).
Even during the novel coronavirus pandemic, Georgia saw an explosion in voter registrations — thanks to efforts of groups like Abrams', though she has repeatedly said the credit is not hers alone.
She has singled out Georgia's 2016 decision, in compliance with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, to create an automatic voter registration program for those people with driver's licenses, which led to record high registrations in the months leading up to the election.
In an interview with NPR earlier this month, Abrams noted that Fair Fight had registered some 800,000 new voters in Georgia since its inception. But she didn't claim the spotlight for herself.
"I want to be clear. So I created an organization about six years ago called the New Georgia Project. That has focused exclusively on voter registration ... We also have had easier voting processes made possible because of the Motor Voter Act [the NVRA] being really fully implemented in the state of Georgia," Abrams told NPR. "And so 800,000 new voters are an incredible number, but the credit should be shared."
In January, Abrams spoke specifically about the presidential race, arguing that her state was uniquely positioned to flip blue, despite not voting for a Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton in 1992.
"Because Georgia has the youngest population of a battleground state. We have the highest percentage of African-Americans of a battleground state," Abrams said during an appearance on Crooked Media's podcast. "And we've proven that both communities will turn out."
Flipping Georgia, Abrams has said, would be an easier lift than flipping other states, due to its demographic makeup. Her case was about activating those people who could vote but don't.
In Georgia, the population has increased 18 percent over the past 10 years, according to the nonpartisan New Georgia Project.
The organization's data shows that people of color, those 18 to 29 years of age and unmarried women comprise 62 percent of the voting age population in Georgia — but just 53 percent of registered voters.
"But look at Georgia by contrast today: In terms of active voters, it’s 57 percent white, 30 percent black, 2 percent Latino, and 2 percent Asian, which means you don’t need to spend as much time or money on the persuasion part of the equation," Abrams said, in an interview with The Cut in 2016. "All you have to do is turn out black voters and brown voters. So unlike in North Carolina, where they spent $22.9 million trying to persuade white voters to vote for Obama, all you have to do is spend a quarter of that convincing black voters to vote."
She said then: "It’s a much easier lift to turn out people who agree with you than it is to convince people and then turn them out."