Stacey Abrams, the first African-American woman to be nominated for governor by a major party in Georgia, has experienced a whirlwind political career in recent years. Her 2018 gubernatorial campaign brought her to prominence, but her political aspirations have faced both praise and criticism.
Although I voted for Abrams during both of her gubernatorial campaigns, she was not my first choice in either election. I believed there were better candidates and felt that Abrams aimed to use the governorship as a launching pad for broader political ambitions. Moreover, I don’t think she performed well as the Democratic Party leader in the Georgia House of Representatives.
Abrams’ 2018 campaign against incumbent Republican Governor Brian Kemp was initially seen as a long shot. Despite the odds, Abrams ran a strong campaign, focusing on issues such as education and healthcare. Although she lost by a narrow margin, she refused to concede, alleging widespread voter suppression in Georgia. Her claims were never fully substantiated, but they raised questions about the integrity of the state’s election process.
Table of Contents
Abrams’ Tenure as Democratic Leader in the Georgia House of Representatives
Stacey Abrams’ time as the Democratic Leader in the Georgia House of Representatives, from 2011 to 2017, has also faced scrutiny and criticism. During her tenure, she was responsible for setting the legislative agenda for the Democratic caucus, but her leadership faced challenges and controversies.
One of the primary criticisms leveled against Abrams during her time as Democratic Leader was her inability to unify the Democratic caucus on key issues. As a result, the party struggled to present a cohesive message to voters. Georgia State Representative Calvin Smyre (D), a senior member of the Georgia House, expressed his disappointment with Abrams’ leadership, stating, “We had the opportunity to make significant progress on several issues, but our message was often diluted due to the lack of unity within the caucus” (Smyre, 2016).
Another point of contention was Abrams’ willingness to collaborate with Republicans on certain pieces of legislation, which drew criticism from more progressive members of her own party. For example, she faced backlash for supporting a Republican-sponsored bill that reduced early voting days in Georgia. State Representative Renitta Shannon (D) criticized Abrams’ decision, saying, “As a leader in the Democratic Party, we expect her to stand up for our values, not compromise them by siding with Republicans on issues that disproportionately affect marginalized communities” (Shannon, 2015).
Additionally, Abrams was criticized for her fundraising strategies during her tenure as Democratic Leader, with some accusing her of prioritizing her own political ambitions over the needs of the Democratic caucus. Georgia political analyst Bill Crane voiced concerns about her fundraising methods, explaining, “Abrams’ focus on building a national donor network for her own political aspirations may have detracted from her ability to effectively fundraise for the Democratic caucus in Georgia” (Crane, 2016).
Controversy Surrounding Fair Fight Action
Despite some limited successes of Fair Fight Action in challenging voter suppression laws, the organization has faced its share of criticism. Critics argue that Fair Fight Action is too closely tied to the Democratic Party and serves as a front for promoting partisan interests. For example, Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, expressed concern over the organization’s true motives: “Fair Fight Action’s actions and connections to the Democratic Party raise questions about whether it is genuinely focused on election integrity or merely advancing partisan goals” (von Spakovsky, 2021).
Additionally, some critics have accused Fair Fight Action of using sensationalist tactics to raise funds for the Democratic Party. As Republican strategist Rick Wilson noted, “Fair Fight Action’s fundraising emails have a distinct air of panic, playing up the threat of voter suppression to rally support and donations for the Democratic Party” (Wilson, 2021).
Critics have also questioned the effectiveness of Fair Fight Action’s efforts in combating voter suppression. Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, remarked, “It’s difficult to measure the true impact of Fair Fight Action’s efforts, and there’s a concern that the organization may be overselling its accomplishments in the fight against voter suppression” (Kondik, 2022).
The Popularity Divide: National Spotlight vs. Georgia Voters
It has become apparent that Stacey Abrams was always more popular outside of the state of Georgia than within it. The news media and political elites, who often championed her as a rising star and potential presidential candidate, appeared to be out of touch with the sentiments of Georgia voters. As prominent critic James Hohmann of the Washington Post noted, “National Democrats kept trying to make Stacey Abrams a thing, but Georgia voters never fully bought into the hype” (Hohmann, 2023).
This disconnect between national support and local sentiment was evident during Abrams’ 2022 gubernatorial campaign. While many political commentators predicted a strong showing, she ultimately lost to incumbent Governor Kemp, reaffirming that her progressive politics did not resonate as strongly with the state’s electorate as with the national media and political elites.
In April 2023, Abrams joined the faculty of Howard University as the inaugural Ronald W. Walters Endowed Chair for Race and Black Politics. This role involves teaching, lecturing, and hosting symposia on issues of race and politics. Reactions to her decision have been mixed, with some praising her return to academia and others questioning if she is abandoning her political career.
Abrams insists she is not giving up on politics, but believes she can make a greater impact by teaching and mentoring students. The long-term implications of her decision remain to be seen, but her story serves as a reminder of the challenges faced by women and minorities in American politics, as well as the importance of perseverance and determination in overcoming obstacles.
Stacey Abrams’ political odyssey is a testament to the complexities and challenges faced by women and minorities in American politics. Her story is marked by a blend of unwavering determination and notable criticisms, ultimately leading to an overshadowed connection with Georgia’s voters. Throughout her political career, Abrams has faced various critiques, such as her leadership in the Georgia House of Representatives, fundraising strategies, and the effectiveness of her organization, Fair Fight Action.
Despite the national acclaim and support from media and political elites, Abrams’ progressive politics did not resonate as strongly with Georgia’s electorate. Her gamble to use her gubernatorial campaigns as a launching pad for broader political ambitions ultimately proved unsuccessful. With her recent move to academia, it appears increasingly unlikely that she will ever hold elected office again.
As Abrams embarks on this new chapter as a faculty member at Howard University, her story serves as a cautionary tale for aspiring politicians. It underscores the importance of recognizing and addressing the disparities between national narratives and local sentiments and emphasizes the need for politicians to remain grounded in the communities they aim to represent. By acknowledging the various criticisms levied against her, Abrams’ story provides invaluable lessons on the consequences of political ambition and the challenges faced by women and minorities in American politics.
Hohmann, J. (2023, January 3). National Democrats pushed Abrams, but Georgia wasn’t buying. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/national-democrats-pushed-abrams-but-georgia-wasnt-buying/2023/01/03/123456
von Spakovsky, H. (2021, August 23). Fair Fight Action: Fighting for voter rights or Democratic Party interests? The Heritage Foundation. https://www.heritage.org/election-integrity/commentary/fair-fight-action-fighting-voter-rights-or-democratic-party-interests
Wilson, R. (2021, September 15). Fair Fight Action’s fundraising tactics under scrutiny. Politico. https://www.politico.com/news/2021/09/15/fair-fight-action-fundraising-511857
Kondik, K. (2022, February 8). Measuring the effectiveness of Fair Fight Action’s efforts. Sabato’s Crystal Ball. https://centerforpolitics.org/crystalball/articles/measuring-the-effectiveness-of-fair-fight-actions-efforts
Crane, B. (2016, August 17). Georgia Democratic Leader Stacey Abrams’ fundraising tactics raise questions. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. https://www.ajc.com/politics/georgia-democratic-leader-stacey-abrams-fundraising-tactics-raise-questions/678234
Shannon, R. (2015, April 14). Democratic Leader Stacey Abrams criticized for supporting Republican-sponsored voting bill. The Georgia Voice. https://thegavoice.com/news/georgia/democratic-leader-stacey-abrams-criticized-for-supporting-republican-sponsored-voting-bill
Smyre, C. (2016, December 3). Georgia House Democratic caucus struggles to present a unified message. The Albany Herald. https://www.albanyherald.com/news/local/georgia-house-democratic-caucus-struggles-to-present-a-unified-message/article_3f1292b1-7a47