Stacey Abrams passes on Senate race, complicating Georgia for Democrats

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Stacey Abrams (Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Stacey Abrams, the 2018 Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nominee, declined to enter the Georgia Senate race Tuesday, a setback for Democrats hoping to flip the Republican seat held by
Sen. David Purdue.

Abrams, who garnered national attention during her unsuccessful run for governor in a close contest marred with accusations of voter suppression, had her first foray onto the national stage when she delivered the Democratic response to the 2019 State of the Union.

In an online video, Abrams explained her decision not to seek the Senate seat saying that she would continue to advocate for voters’ rights while leaving open the possibility of seeking another higher office.

The chances of Georgia flipping in both the presidential and Senate elections relied heavily on the Democratic Senate nominee. Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at The Cook Political Report, said the publication currently ranks Georgia as a “Likely R,” but explained that if Abrams entered they would have moved it to a toss-up. For the state to be in play for the presidential election, Duffy said they need a “decent” Senate candidate.  

Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, University of Virginia’s Center for Politics nonpartisan political analysis newsletter, said they rank the race as “Likely R” as well.

“In 2016, every state that had a Senate race voted for the same party for president and for Senate,” he said. “Perdue is favored because Georgia is still a state that is likelier than not to vote for Republican for president.”

Incumbent Republican Perdue won the seat in 2014, and has $3.2 million cash-on-hand through the first quarter of 2019. Just in the first quarter of 2019, he raised close to $1.8 million.

In the 2014 election, Perdue was outraised by Michelle Nunn, his Democratic opponent, $16 million to $13.8 million. He still won with a solid 53 percent of the vote. Perdue also raised much of his money from in-state sources — 69 percent.

Outside spending in the 2014 election also played a big role, and will continue to in 2020 as the race will receive quite a bit of national attention. In 2014, outside groups spent almost $3.9 million in support of Perdue and $12.7 million opposing the Democratic candidate, favoring Perdue overall. The top outside group aligned with Perdue was the Ending Spending Action Fund super PAC, primarily financed by the megadonor Adelson and Ricketts families, which spent almost $6.9 million to benefit him.

One Democrat appears ready to step in the space left open by Abrams. That’s former Columbus mayor Teresa Tomlinson. Tomlinson launched a Senate exploratory committee on April 5, and had said that she would only run if Abrams did not.

Other potential Democratic candidates include Sarah Riggs Amico, the executive chairwoman of a trucking and logistics firm who lost the 2018 race for Georgia lieutenant governor, as well as unsuccessful congressional candidate Jon Ossoff, who despite massive fundraising lost the 2017 special election for Georgia’s 6th congressional district.   

Abrams entered politics as a member of Georgia’s General Assembly in 2007 where she rose to the position of minority leader. When she launched her bid for governor in 2017, Abrams received a number of high-profile endorsements, including one from 2020 presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the primary and from former President Barack Obama during the general election. Abrams was the first ever female African-American nominee of a major party for governor.

Throughout 2019, Abrams weighed a 2020 presidential run and was briefly discussed as a potential running mate for Joe Biden’s candidacy, an idea Abrams dismissed. Both options could still be in play now that she opted not to run for Senate.

Her exit means the Democrats will be missing out on a solid fundraiser. During the 2018 gubernatorial campaign, Abrams raised more than $27.7 million. Small donors fueled Abrams campaign and helped make her a national name. Unitemized contributions, those under $200, accounted for almost $8.4 million. One of her biggest all-time individual donors was Lisa Borders, former WNBA president and a founder of the nonprofit bipartisan No Labels organization. Another notable contributor was Democratic megadonor George Soros who provided $21,000 to her gubernatorial campaign.

Abrams’ campaign received a significant number of contributions from federal candidates, including from some now running for president. Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) leadership PAC, Purpose PAC, contributed $13,200 to her campaign committee in the 2018 cycle, the most from any candidate or leadership committee. The Sanders’-affiliated Our Revolution PAC gave her $3,000. In total, Abrams’ campaign committee notched $259,551 from federal PACs and candidates.    

In what will likely be a closely watched and crucial race for control of the Senate, the question is how involved Abrams will be in support of the Democratic nominee. A 501(c)(4) nonprofit called Fair Fight Action, led by Abrams’ former campaign manager, has a political arm and dropped around $100,000 for a Super Bowl ad that aired in Georgia markets. The group will likely factor into the 2020 race in some way.

Fair Fight Action describes its mission on its website as being an “advocate for election reform and engage in voter education and turnout to secure the voting rights of Georgians.” The group launched a sister PAC called Fair Fight in January, potentially as a precursor to any Abrams’ decision on running for an office.

The nonprofit side of Fair Fight Action has been described as a “dark money” group because of its policy of not disclosing donors and for the numerous overlaps of Abrams campaign staff and consultants serving in similar roles in the organization.

The group also launched a lawsuit alleging voter rights violations in the Georgia gubernatorial race.

Fair Fight Action appears to have last run Facebook ads in March 2019, mostly supporting local public transit legislation and adding hand-marked paper ballots for Georgia elections, according to the Facebook Ad archive. The group also hasn’t promoted any Tweets, according to Twitter’s Ads Transparency Center.

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