Democrat Stacey Abrams has an opponent in her quest to become Georgia’s next governor. The Yale-trained attorney will take on Republican Brian Kemp in the race, drawing the eyes of the nation to a pivotal November contest between a progressive black woman and a pro-Trump conservative man.
Abrams is campaigning to become the first black woman governor in U.S. history. A businesswoman and writer, she was the first female leader of her state’s General Assembly. On the other side is Kemp, who is currently Georgia’s sitting secretary of state and a former state senator. President Donald Trump endorsed him as “tough on crime, strong on the border and illegal immigration”—helping him defeat Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle in Tuesday’s Republican primary for governor to become his party’s nominee.
Now Abrams and Kemp will duke it out to succeed Republican Governor Nathan Deal, who can’t run again because of term limits. Their showdown highlights a coast-to-coast midterm battle between Republicans who embrace Trump’s economic and social agenda and the Democrats who passionately reject it.
Abrams got her shot at Georgia’s highest office after the backing of A-list supporters and strong fund-raising helped her win a May Democratic primary showdown against a somewhat more moderate white candidate, Stacey Evans.
But with an opponent who is a Trump favorite in the other corner, how will Abrams fare? Audrey Haynes, University of Georgia associate professor of political science, says she has a tough fight ahead of her.
She expects the possibility of an Abrams win will energize Democrats, including black women voters, who have been key players in many of this cycle’s highest-profile elections, especially at a time when America has just six sitting female governors and not a single state with a black chief executive.
But Georgia went for Trump over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, and has yet to join the ranks of swing states that neither Republicans nor Democrats can consider a lock. (In fact, Georgia has not elected a Democratic governor since 1998.)
That same excitement could also emerge among Republican voters who want to use the midterms as a show of support for Trump and his chosen candidates, including people like Kemp, whose campaign featured an ad in which he proudly proclaimed himself a “politically incorrect conservative” who’d even use his “big truck” to “round up criminal illegals” personally.
Bring it on, says Abrams, who’s running on a platform that emphasizes criminal justice reform and economic opportunity and who tweeted that she’d be proud to join the ranks of Democrats Trump has campaigned against.
Kemp, meanwhile, tweeted his thanks to Trump and said he looks forward to working with his former rival Cagle “to defeat Stacey Abrams and her radical, left-wing backers!” He promises to be a governor who will defend the rights of gun owners, fight crime, and cut government regulations.
Come November “I would predict that turnout will be high. People are passionate,” Haynes told Glamour via email. “I suspect that President Trump will make an appearance, and I am sure that the Abrams campaign would love to see him go off script and deliver a message that they can use to motivate their voters, particularly women, to turn out.”
Individually, “Kemp has shown that he can campaign, stay on message, build bridges to his intra-party opponents, and stump well. Abrams is a very good communicator, can raise money, stay on message, and can campaign as well. Both come into the general election with some baggage that will be the content of a multitude of negative ads from a host of super PACs and such,” Haynes told Glamour.
For Abrams, that baggage includes her admission of racking up significant personal debt. Kemp’s critics, meanwhile, say his political ambitions have been financed by some of the same people whose businesses he oversees as secretary of state.
“In the end, this will be a contest of ideas—whose do you like better—and one’s existing partisanship may have already decided that in a very polarized political environment,” Haynes said. “It will be a contest of organization, who can mobilize, and it will be a contest of endurance [as to] who can campaign to the very end. Those of us who study politics are watching to see what will happen.”
And with the nation’s eyes laser-focused on a race that could go down in the history books, they won’t be alone.