The long-anticipated rematch of the midterm election cycle is now officially on: Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost the Georgia governor’s race in 2018, will challenge Gov. Brian Kemp in 2022. She made her announcement in a video on Wednesday.
So are her chances of winning this time better, or worse?
My gut reaction when posed with this question was: Worse. Kemp defeated Abrams in 2018 by 1.4 points in a strongly pro-Democratic cycle. The atmosphere for the 2022 election cycle, meanwhile, is shaping up to be the diametric opposite. Joe Biden is unpopular, and Democrats in Congress are bracing for significant losses. The outcomes of governor’s races and other local races aren’t necessarily directly tied to the national mood. But we’ve just seen some recent data showing how they can be: In both the Virginia and New Jersey governor’s races last month, the Democratic candidates ran 12 points behind the pace Joe Biden set in his 2020 presidential victory. If the national environment for the midterms is similar to this year’s, Democrats will struggle to defeat any Republican incumbents in nominally toss-up states.
But Stacey Abrams is one of the shrewder Democratic politicians. She knows all of this—and launched a campaign anyway. She is not doing this on a hope and a prayer, or winging it just because she needs something to do. She intends to win, and there are countervailing pressures to the national environment that give her a chance.
First, there’s the obvious: She’s Stacey Abrams, a compelling national star and one of the most successful Democratic organizers in recent memory, someone whose efforts took a state that had been red for decades and then, in one election, helped produce a Democratic presidential winner and two Democratic senators. The party in power suffers so often in midterm elections because it can’t energize the Democratic base. Abrams will energize the Democratic base. (There is, however, an important caveat here: The Republican base will also be energized to turn out, having seen quite recently that Democrats can win elections in the state.)
But there’s another, Georgia-specific factor that could play into Abrams’ hands as she heads into the rematch: It’s not even clear that it will be a rematch.
The Georgia Republican Party is a mess because of Donald Trump. Trump considers Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger traitors to the cause because they refused to overturn the state’s presidential election result on his behalf. He has not been quiet about this. Trump has already recruited a challenger to Raffensperger—Rep. Jody Hice—and he is working his darndest to ensure he finds an adequate one for Kemp, too. Trump has gone so far as to suggest, at his post-presidential rallies, that Georgia would’ve been better off with Abrams as governor than Kemp, whose endorsement from Trump helped him win the 2018 gubernatorial primary.
In Trump’s statement following Abrams’ reelection announcement, he reiterated his call for a Kemp replacement.
Stacey “The Hoax” Abrams has just announced that she’s running for Governor of Georgia. I beat her single-handedly, without much of a candidate, in 2018. I’ll beat her again, but it will be hard to do with Brian Kemp, because the MAGA base will just not vote for him after what he did with respect to Election Integrity and two horribly run elections, for President and then two Senate seats. But some good Republican will run, and some good Republican will get my endorsement, and some good Republican will WIN!
The Kemp alternate being most eyed is former Sen. David Perdue. Perdue lost his reelection bid to now-Sen. Jon Ossoff in January directly because Trump’s insistence that the election was rigged depressed GOP runoff turnout. Perdue nevertheless still must publicly worship at Trump’s altar, because these are the sicko incentives of contemporary Republican politics.
Perdue is considering a bid. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Perdue “has told activists and allies that there’s one reason he’d divide the party by challenging Kemp next year: A fear that the governor would get walloped by Abrams in November and that only Perdue could save the Georgia GOP from a devastating defeat.” You have to love the self-serving rationales of sacrifice from these guys. Only I, one-term Sen. David Perdue, the guy who couldn’t beat Jon Ossoff 10 months ago, can save the Georgia GOP.
If the idea of a Perdue campaign, with Trump’s full backing, is to scare Kemp out of running for reelection, that seems unlikely. Kemp’s allies, also according to the AJC, have warned of a “scorched earth” campaign against Perdue should he enter. It’s personal, as the senator had, according to Kemp’s staff, “personally” pledged to support Kemp’s reelection bid. But those were sunnier days.
The simplest solution here would be for someone to broker a peace deal between Trump and Kemp that brings a Trump endorsement of Kemp and a united Republican Party that could grind out a win in a favorable Republican environment, even against a Democratic Party united behind Stacey Abrams.
Since that’s unlikely, this is a race.