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Why Democratic presidential prospects are rushing to back Georgia's Stacey Abrams

Stacey Abrams' bid to become the first female African-American governor in America is the hottest ticket in Democrats...

Posted: May 21, 2018 9:31 PM
Updated: May 21, 2018 9:31 PM

Stacey Abrams' bid to become the first female African-American governor in America is the hottest ticket in Democrats' shadow 2020 presidential primary.

In Georgia's Tuesday primary, Abrams, the former state House minority leader, faces former state Rep. Stacey Evans for the Democratic nomination in what will be a closely-watched governor's race.

Just ahead of the primary, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed Abrams, and California Sen. Kamala Harris visited Georgia to campaign for her. In January, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker was in Atlanta for events supporting Abrams.

Nina Turner, the president of Our Revolution, the organization that emerged from Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign, spent the weekend in Georgia turning out the vote for Abrams.

The national figures' interest in the race and national support for Abrams is in part a result of her appeal to both the Democrats' progressive wing and its African-American base.

There's also Georgia's status as a key state in both the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. It votes on Super Tuesday, and black Democratic voters in the South are a crucial source of delegates. The formerly deep-red state has also emerged as competitive in general elections.

Hillary Clinton's strength with black voters in the South was at the core of her strategy to clinch the party's 2016 nomination, and Sanders was never able to make up the ground he'd lost there later in the nominating process.

Abrams' emergence as a Democratic star, fueled by her calls for massive black voter registration efforts, became clear to a national audience in August 2017, when the progressive gathering Netroots Nation was held in Atlanta.

Abrams was among the biggest stars at the event. And Evans attempted to speak, too. But protesters accusing Evans of taking stances on education issues similar to President Donald Trump's education secretary, Betsy DeVos, drowned her out for about 10 minutes with chants of "trust black women."

Evans is still seen as a strong candidate, and amid all the national attention, Abrams' campaign has become sensitive to the potential perception that she is ignoring local voices.

Abrams' list of endorsements on her campaign website first highlights a long list of Georgia Democrats and local organizations. Only at the very end of the list is a group of "Additional Supporters" comprised of national figures.

"Of course, we are really thrilled about the national support and endorsements we have received from senators from members of Congress, but really what we want folks to know is we have a really strong base of local support as well," an Abrams aide said, arguing that Abrams has told supporters and aides that her campaign is "grounded here in Georgia but nationally known."

The aide acknowledged that campaigns like Abrams could make winning Georgia in two years easier for Democrats.

"The tilling of that soil is really important," the aide said, arguing that the state won't be flippable without competitive Democratic races.

The rush to back Abrams also represents Democrats' hope that 2020 will be the year they turn Georgia blue for the first time since then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton won the state in 1992.

Democrats from Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez on down remain bullish about their prospects in 2020 in a state Trump only won by 5 percentage points in 2016, making it closer than traditional swing states like Ohio and Iowa.

Booker, who has focused much of his endorsement travel in 2018 on colleagues in the Senate, has stepped out and endorsed two candidates for governor so far, Abrams in Georgia and Ben Jealous in Maryland.

Both are African-American leaders in their respective states, and a senior aide to the New Jersey senator said one reason he has endorsed the two candidates is because he "feels especially passionately about getting more men and women of color into elected office and politics."

In an email to supporters, Booker said the Georgia gubernatorial race represents "a unique opportunity -- not only to turn the state blue, but to build progressive power in the South and bring new voices and voters into the political process nationwide."

Harris campaigned for Abrams in May, saying the race has "national impact."

Lily Adams, a spokeswoman for Harris, said the California Democrat backs Abrams because of the diversity she would bring to the upper echelon of the state's political scene.

"Senator Harris, really throughout her career, has placed a premium on endorsing a more diverse set of elected officials and this year is no different," Adams said.

Harris has also endorsed Aaron Ford, who would be Nevada's first African-American attorney general, and Joe Neguse, whose campaign in Colorado's 2nd District House race could make him the state's first African-American congressman.

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