Despite a fierce lobbying effort by party leaders, Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams announced Tuesday that she will not run for Senate.
In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution posted Tuesday, Abrams, 45, said she was “deeply honored by so many fellow Georgians asking me to serve. But my responsibility is not simply to run because the job is available. I need to run because I want to do the job.”
Abrams gained national attention after narrowly losing her bid for governor last year, has said in recent months that she also was considering a presidential bid. In a video statement, she did not say what her next political move would be. She did, however, vow to continue her fight against voter suppression, which she has said was a factor in her gubernatorial race against Republican Brian Kemp.
“I am so grateful for all of the support and encouragement I have received from fellow Georgians to leaders of Congress and beyond,” Abrams said in a two-minute video posted to Twitter early Tuesday. “However, the fights to be waged require a deep commitment to the job, and I do not see the U.S. Senate as the best role for me in this battle for our nation’s future.”
Georgia has been a reliably Republican state, but shifting demographics there have convinced Democrats that they have a chance of winning a Senate seat. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) recruited Abrams for the seat, held by first-term Republican Sen. David Perdue, seeing it as a prime opportunity if Abrams were the Democratic candidate.
After Abrams’s narrow defeat, Schumer selected her to give the Democratic Party’s rebuttal to President Trump’s State of the Union address in February.
Schumer and Abrams met at least twice, most recently in New York City in March. That meeting came during the same week that rumors were rampant that former vice president Joe Biden had asked Abrams to be his running mate. Biden’s advisers eventually took to social media to say that Biden had not made such a proposal. Abrams dismissed the notion during an appearance on ABC’s daytime talk show “The View,” in which she declared, “You don’t run for second place.”
Although her decision leaves party leaders without a candidate who has run statewide in Georgia, Abrams said she would “do everything in my power to ensure Georgia elects a Democrat to the United States Senate in 2020.”
Abrams has said that she would decide by September whether to run for president. Although 21 of her fellow Democrats are running or have formed a presidential exploratory committee, with Biden the most recent and most popular entrant, a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that most Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters are uncommitted to a candidate.
The first female leader in the Georgia General Assembly and the first African American leader in the state House, Abrams also could wait for a rematch with Kemp in 2022. Many of her supporters believe that is the job she really wants, and she has said in interviews that she believes it is important for progressive political figures to fight for change in red states with growing populations of people of color.
Political observers say Democrats are likely to continue to make gains in Georgia in the next few cycles, driven by demographic and ideological shifts. State Republicans’ grip on the legislature is vulnerable, after they passed an abortion bill that essentially outlaws the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy. Suburban women and minority voters, who helped to fuel Democratic gains in 2018, could help Democratic challengers oust Republican lawmakers in competitive districts next year and beyond.
“While I still don’t know exactly what’s next for me, here’s what I do know: Democracy in America is under attack. Voter suppression is rampant, and it is real,” Abrams said in the video. “Over the coming weeks, you’ll be hearing more from me and my team about groundbreaking initiatives to protect the right to vote and to increase the participation of Americans in setting the course for Georgia and the future of our country.”
Abrams’s decision is a blow to Democrats’ hopes of retaking the Senate majority in 2020 — and a personal setback for Schumer, who spent months trying to gently cajole Abrams into joining the race.
Democrats need a net gain of three seats to claim a majority if they also win the presidency. With GOP incumbents defending Senate seats next year in only two states Trump won in 2016 — Colorado and Maine — Democrats are eyeing states such as Georgia, where they have been inching closer to statewide wins, as a crucial element of their Senate strategy.
Strategists of both parties saw Abrams as a unique threat to Perdue by dint of her ability to motivate Georgia voters who might not otherwise turn out to vote next year. But those strategists also questioned whether she would be able to topple Perdue, a former corporate executive whose image is not as polarizing as her 2018 opponent, Kemp. But had she entered, the race would immediately have become a top-tier battleground, likely generating tens of millions of dollars in spending.
Now Republican donors are likely to direct those resources elsewhere, shoring up other battlegrounds in more marginal states such as North Carolina and Arizona.
“Stacey Abrams would have been a great Senator, and so will the candidate who takes on Senator Perdue next fall,” Stewart Boss, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a statement. “Stacey and Georgia Democrats laid a strong foundation for 2020, and Senator Perdue will be held accountable for driving up health care costs, giving big corporations and millionaires like himself a tax break, and putting the president ahead of what’s right. His weaknesses are why Georgia is a great pickup opportunity.”
The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has spent the past few months criticizing Abrams for traveling around the country — and a few times outside the country — on a book tour and speaking engagement, needled Schumer for being unable to woo her.
“Stacey Abrams handed Chuck Schumer his most embarrassing recruiting fail of the cycle, leaving Georgia Democrats stuck with an assortment of second-tier candidates,” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Jesse Hunt said in a statement. “Her decision is the latest in a string of high-profile Democrats who have rejected Schumer’s pitch out of fear of facing formidable Republican Senators next fall.”
Without Abrams in the race, Democrats have no alternative with her level of name recognition and fundraising muscle. Former Columbus, Ga., mayor Teresa Tomlinson and business executive Sarah Riggs Amico, who ran for lieutenant governor in the state last year, have indicated they are likely to run. Another potential challenger is Jon Ossoff, who lost a close, expensive special election in 2017 for a suburban Atlanta House seat once held by former house speaker Newt Gingrich (R).
Abrams shook up Georgia politics and rose to national prominence as the nation’s first African American woman to run on a major ticket for governor. Both Oprah Winfrey and former president Barack Obama campaigned for her in Georgia. Abrams lost to Kemp by fewer than 1.4 percentage points, one of the closest races in state history, an outcome that took days to finalize.
She received more votes in the governor’s race than any other Democrat running statewide, including 25 percent of the white vote, a greater share than Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016, and gubernatorial nominee Jason Carter, grandson of former president Jimmy Carter, in 2012.
The last two Democratic nominees for Georgia governor lost by more than 200,000 votes. Abrams closed the gap to 55,000 votes. The higher turnout numbers she generated are credited with helping Democrat Lucy McBath defeat Republican Rep. Karen Handel in the 6th District, as well as pick up a dozen seats in the Georgia legislature.
In addition to rallying the usual Democratic voters, Abrams’s campaign spent heavily to motivate and mobilize infrequent voters, going door to door in low-income and rural communities, and using text messages and social media to remind people to cast their ballots. During her campaign she pledged to expand Medicaid eligibility, create jobs outside metro Atlanta and increase spending for public education.
After the governor’s race, Abrams formed a group called Fair Fight Action and filed a lawsuit alleging “gross mismanagement” by state elections officials. The lawsuit calls for officials to fix problems with voter registration, and policies and procedures for conducting elections and counting votes.
Abrams had a favorable rating of 45 percent among Georgia voters in a poll released in early April by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That was down from 52 percent in a January poll. Perdue was viewed favorably by 47 percent of Georgia voters, about the same as the 45-percent approval rating he received in January.