What Stacey Abrams’ State of the Union response means for the future of the Democratic Party – ThinkProgress
For some, Stacey Abrams would seem an unlikely choice to give the Democrats’ response to the State of the Union.
One of the most closely-watched candidates of the 2018 cycle, Abrams lost her race to then-Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Delivering the State of the Union address is a high-profile assignment typically is reserved for party luminaries with a long record of solid election wins.
Abrams’ was far from the run-of-the-mill election defeat, however. It followed an aggressive, years-long effort by Kemp to suppress the black vote which formed a large part of her base. Despite Republicans’ electoral chicanery, Abrams lost the governorship by less than one percent however — a remarkable feat for an African American woman in the Deep South.
Now, Abrams becomes the first African American woman ever to give a State of the Union response and the first to deliver the remarks following a major election loss.
As Democrats take stock of national demographic changes and look ahead to coming electoral battles, party officials said they could scarcely have picked a speaker better suited to meet the political moment. The choice of Abrams to deliver Tuesday’s State of the Union speech sends “a clear message about the future of the country, and certainly of the Democratic Party,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) told reporters on Monday.
Having a black American deliver this year’s response also sends a “very strong signal to the president” about the racial divisions President Donald Trump has stoked during his time in office, said Jayapal, co-chair in the House of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Abrams is a charismatic speaker with a powerful message of more human criminal justice laws and voting rights equity. Her election strategy focused on creating coalitions between voters from a diverse array of racial, class and ethnic groups.
“She’s got the blueprint,” said Nse Ufot, the executive director of New Georgia Project, a voting rights group in Georgia that has worked with Abrams for years.
“But for Brian Kemp’s thumb on the scale… we would be talking about Gov. Abrams,” she said. Abrams “has provided the blueprint for how you win the South, how you win when you don’t have the most money, [and] how you build a winning coalition that is diverse.”
Ufot added, “She was defiant until the end, because it was rooted in principle, and that put a battery in our backs. We’re waiting for another battle cry.”
The State of the Union response is the perfect venue for that battle cry, Ufot said.
“She talks like a real person… She is one of us,” Ufot said. “In Atlanta, we would say she has the sauce … Sometimes I feel like Democrats don’t deserve her.”
Since ending her campaign, Abrams has, among other endeavors, joined the board of the Center for American Progress. (ThinkProgress is an editorially independent publication housed in the Center for American Progress.)
She also has been widely touted as a possible candidate to run for Georgia’s US Senate seat against Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) in 2020.
As she grows in stature in the party, Abrams will be in an even better position to defeat the entrenched forces that coalesced in her state to oppose her. As secretary of state, Kemp controlled the levers of Georgia’s election apparatus and bent the rules to his own benefit.
Between 2012 and 2018, Kemp’s office canceled more than 1.4 million voter registrations, including nearly 670,000 in 2017 alone, according to the Associated Press. Black voters were most affected by his mass voter purges and “exact match” law ahead of his 2018 gubernatorial election.
An analysis from The Washington Post found that the Georgia’s exact match law, which was passed in 2017, could disenfranchise nearly 910,000 voters. The law requires that citizens’ names on their government-issued IDs must precisely match their names as listed on the voter rolls, including accents on letters, hyphens in names, and full middle names versus middle initials.
Against that backdrop, Jayapal said, “I think what Stacey has done is remarkable. She should be the sitting governor of Georgia.”
Still, Abrams — even in defeat — showed Democrats how they could score election path victory in the South. In 2014, Democrat Jason Carter lost the Georgia gubernatorial race to incumbent Republican Gov. Nathan Deal by nearly 8 points. In 2018, Abrams lost by less than .25 percent, according to The Washington Post’s final report of the numbers.
Abrams’ elevation by the party comes at a auspicious time, as people of color in Georgia and across the United States becomes a larger percentage of the entire electorate. These groups, African Americans and Hispanics in particular, tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic.
And the selection of Abrams is a nod to the most loyal Democratic voters of all, African American women, who turn out in high percentages and vote with the party 90 percent of the time or more.
It was black women who provided Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) his 1.5 percent margin of victory over Judge Roy Moore (R) in the Alabama Senate race two years ago — a historic moment for Democrats in the deep, red South.
Tuesday’s speech is proof that Democrats have understood the profound significance of Abrams’ achievements.
“It is a signal,” Ufot said, “that the Democratic Party leadership … has gotten a lot of clarity about who their base is.”