Four years ago, Stacey Abrams had the world at her feet. Yes, she had just lost the Georgia gubernatorial race to Governor Brian Kemp by less than 60,000 votes – but after such a surprisingly close contest, she was announced by the Democratic Party as a promising new leader. There was speculation that she would be chosen as Joe Biden’s running mate during his 2020 presidential bid (a prospect welcomed by Abrams), and she was widely credited for pioneering a new playbook focused on engaging black voters in Georgia, particularly after Biden toppled the state in 2020. Although Biden eventually tapped Sen. Kamala Harris of California to share the post, Abrams kept his eyes on the governor’s mansion. But she enters this year’s race as an even bigger underdog. than it was in 2018.
The most recent surveys of the race consistently show Abrams, a former Georgia State House minority leader, trailing Kemp by single digits, according to FiveThirtyEight poll average starting last Friday at 12 p.m. Eastern Time. (All data in this article is as of this date and time.) An October poll of Data for progresshowever, found that the Republican held a 10 percentage point lead over Abrams – 3 points more than when the firm surveyed the race for the last time, in September. And while Abrams enjoyed stronger support among Democrats than Kemp did among Republicans, according to a September report Monmouth University survey, pollsters also concluded that Abrams’ path to victory this year was “much narrower.”
Abram’s campaign is also attract much less buzz this year compared to the frenzied excitement of his candidacy in 2018. This stands out because there is a significant gap between Abrams’ poll against Kemp and that of Senator Raphael Warnock, another Democrat on the ballot, who is running for re-election against Republican Herschel Walker. According to our database, no recent nonpartisan polls give Walker a lead. Most nonpartisan surveys, especially those conducted after Walker’s abortion controversy, gave Warnock a single-digit advantage. In reality, Weighted average of FiveThirtyEight is almost 2 points in favor of Warnock. FiveThirtyEight Deluxe Forecast of the election, meanwhile, rated the race as a draw.
In the governor’s race, our luxury forecast gives Kemp has about a 9-in-10 chance of being re-elected last Friday at 12 p.m. ET. Because Abrams is a black woman looking for a job all over the Southern State, sexism and racism are likely to blame some of his underperformance – but not all of it. Abrams’ lackluster polls can also be attributed with lukewarm enthusiasm for his candidacy among black men. Also, unlike 2018, when she was run for a free seatshe now faces a holder who has proven itself be a able politician during his tenure.
“Tenure always matters,” said Gbemende Johnson, professor of political science at the University of Georgia. “On top of that, Kemp now has a record he can race on, so the conditions are quite different for Abrams than they were in 2018.”
In short, a loss for Abrams this year could have less to do with her shortcomings as a candidate and more to a number of built-in advantages working in Kemp’s favor.
On the one hand, Kemp’s relative popularity as governor is a boon for his candidacy. Moreover, in his race against Abrams, he is played in important issues for Georgians – like the economy and inflation – as a political point to keep him in office. Abrams, meanwhile, was talk a lot about abortion – and even if a six-week abortion ban came into force in Julythis question seems to be less important for Georgian voters.
What also works in Kemp’s favor is that the political environment in 2022 is a lot different than it was four years ago, when Republicans controlled the White House. At the time, Democrats could largely run dissatisfaction with Donald Trump and work to link their challengers to the former president. But Trump is not in the White House this year. And since 2018, Kemp has fallen out of favor with the former president after he withstood pressure to overturn the results of the 2020 election. He also had to postpone a primary challenger backed by Trump, former Sen. David Perdue, in May. In doing so, Kemp may have broken slightly with the GOP mainstream.
“It’s not hard for someone to position themselves to the left of Trump, especially when ‘left’ just means you won’t overturn an election,” said Periloux Peay, professor of political science at Georgia State University. “That doesn’t mean that [Kemp] is, by all means, a moderate or even someone who leans conservative. He is a staunch Republican.
But even if his politics are very conservative, Johnson said, Kemp’s show of independence from Trump could still help him. “You can imagine, for example, that there are voters on the more moderate side who may have slight preferences for Democratic policies but still want to give credit to Kemp for his performance or the performance of the economy in Georgia,” she said. “You might say, ‘That’s not necessarily my cup of tea, but at least he wasn’t willing to interfere in an election like the previous president wanted. “”
In addition, as we mentioned earlier, the Georgian electorate is ideologically calcified by race and geography. In short, that means Abrams is likely to win an overwhelming majority of black voters, while Kemp is likely to do better with rural white voters. This dynamic exists primarily because the demographics of Peach State have changed dramatically over the past two decades, thanks to an influx of new black residents. So whether that contest is close may depend on how many black Georgians of voting age cast their ballots. What works against Abrams, however, is that she would have a hard time making inroads with black men, who might be shifting slightly towards Republicans. Abrams, for his part, has attempted to account for this by hosting conversations called “Stacey and the Guys” to engage black men in the state. But it’s unclear whether his efforts are paying off: At least one survey showed Kemp winning 15% of the black vote.
It could also be harder for Abrams — versus Warnock — to appeal to independent or moderate Republican voters who are disillusioned with the GOP but don’t want to support a progressive candidate. That’s because not only does she lack a statewide record, but there are also long-standing stereotypes about women. black politicians being seen as progressive, although this is not necessarily the case. Additionally, the curators have spent the last four years painting Abrams like a far left bogey (wo)man. At times, too, Abrams apparently had trouble finding his place within the Democratic Party. While she has taken more progressive stances lately on issues such as reparations to black Americans as restitution for slavery, her record as a state legislator was marked by bipartite negotiation.
The other issues Abrams faces this year are largely beyond his control. The states new restrictive electoral law could dampen turnout for voters of color, and Biden could also be a hindrance on the candidacies of Abrams and Warnock since his approval ratings in the state are far below the numbers of the two Democrats, according to an October Quinnipiac University investigation. According to the poll, only 44% of likely voters in the state approved of Biden’s professional performance, while 51% approved of Warnock’s performance and 48% had a favorable opinion of Abrams.
“Kemp … may have some success tying his rival to Biden’s policies, especially among voters unhappy with what’s happening nationally,” Johnson said. “That’s what I’ve seen in terms of the opposition narrative around Stacey Abrams – a sense that a vote for her would send the state in the wrong direction.”
Still, the gubernatorial race may be tighter than we think. So far, participation in Georgia is higher than four years ago, and early voting currently showing a higher proportion of black people voting this year than at this time in previous elections. “If Stacey Abrams is going to win or come close to winning, it’s likely going to be because of in-person early voting or mail-in votes,” Peay said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Stacey Abrams has a lead heading into election night, and then it narrows as the night wears on.”
Ultimately, the outcome of Georgia’s gubernatorial race may come down to the fact that the environment is simply better for Kemp. Abrams can’t be counted completely, but a win for her this year Is seem far-fetched – especially compared to 2018.