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Could Abrams’ Foiled Campaign Mirror Obama’s Path?

By Rosaland Tyler
Associate Editor
New Journal and Guide

When Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams formally conceded the governor’s race on Nov. 16 to former Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, some reflected on how Barack Obama lost to Rep. Bobby Rush in 2000, won a U.S. Senate seat four years later, and the presidential race in 2008.

Failure taught 38-year-old Obama, in other words. While history is understandably silent on the impact that losing will have on Abrams, 44, it shows she has launched an organization that will fight for more equitable voting laws and soon bring “a major federal lawsuit against the state of Georgia for gross mismanagement of this election.”

However, history speaks loud and clear about the aftermath of Obama’s 2000 loss. Specifically, Obama lost in 2000 to incumbent, four-term Congressman Bobby Rush in the 1st district in Illinois, (which was then roughly two-thirds African-American). Later, Obama rolled up his sleeves, increased his name recognition (which stood at about 10 percent when he announced his candidacy), gained fundraising experience, and made a political comeback.

“I knew in my bones that I was going to lose,” Obama wrote in his 2006 book, “The Audacity of Hope.” Obama added, “Each morning from that point forward I awoke with a vague sense of dread, realizing that I would have to spend the day smiling and shaking hands and pretending that everything was going according to plan.”

Although history shows Rush won the primary with 61.02 percent of the vote, and Obama lost because he won just about 30 percent, Obama learned a crucial lesson. In March 2004, Obama won the Democratic primary for the United States Senate with nearly 53 percent of the vote, racking up huge totals in wards he had lost to Rush in 2000. According to news reports, Obama won the general election with the biggest margin ever in an Illinois Senate race.

Rush said later, laughing, “I would characterize the Senate race as being a race where Obama was, let’s say, blessed and highly favored … Obama has certain qualities that – I think he is being used for some purpose. I really believe that.”

Who knows what Kemp will say about Abrams in the years to come? But this is where Abram’s new organization comes in. It will file “a major federal lawsuit against the state of Georgia for gross mismanagement of this election.”

History cannot predict Abrams’ future because she failed to force a runoff with Kemp, who on Nov. 15 led by 54,801 votes out of 3.9 million cast. History books will tell you in years to come that Kemp’s 50.22 percent win put the Republican just above the 50 percent-plus-one-vote threshold required to avoid a runoff election in December.

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However, history books will also say Abrams, 44, refused to concede when she recently spoke at her Atlanta campaign office. “Let’s be clear, this is not a speech of concession,” she said.

She added, “I acknowledge that former secretary of state Brian Kemp will be certified as the victor in the 2018 gubernatorial election. But to watch an elected official who claims to represent the people in this state baldly pin his hopes for election on the suppression of the people’s democratic right to vote has been truly appalling.”

She also said she would pray for Kemp’s success.

Since history calmly connects the dots, like Abrams did during her recent speech where she calmly described some of the voter-suppression stories she’d heard–Voters waited up to four hours to vote. Some voters did not receive requested absentee ballots. Some voters did not receive accurate information from county elections officials.

The point is history always moves forward. But no one knew Obama would launch a successful comeback in 2000. Therefore, no one can predict what is ahead for Abrams, who received support from former presidents Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter as well as media giant Oprah Winfrey.

And no one can predict what lies ahead as the racial demographics continue to shift in America. Census data shows the nation will become minority white in 2045. During that year, whites will comprise 49.7 percent of the population. The greatest growth is projected for multiracial populations, Asians and Hispanics with 2018–2060 growth rates of 176, 93, and 86 percent, respectively. The projected growth rate for African-Americans is 34 percent. This is the point. Minorities will outnumber whites in 2020

It’s unclear if these census reports were on anybody’s mind during the recent gubernatorial race in Georgia. It’s unclear if voter suppression is a sign of things to come, as minorities outnumber whites. However, it is clear that African-American voters account for 30 percent of registered voters in Georgia. White voter turnout dropped by 9 percent in Georgia in the recent election, and many of the early voters were African-Americans. Less than 50 percent of Georgia residents will be white in most counties – within the next decades, according to census data.

Is this why Abrams said in her recent speech, “As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede … But, my assessment is the law currently allows no further viable remedy. Now, I can certainly bring a new case to keep this one contest alive, but I don’t want to hold public office if I need to scheme my way into the post. Because the title of governor isn’t nearly as important as our shared title – voters. And that is why we fight on.”

This much is clear. Abrams is moving on by launching Fair Fight Georgia, an organization that is running a commercial that asks voters to tell their stories about trouble at the polls. Abrams, a 2002 graduate of Yale Law School, also plans to bring a major federal lawsuit against Georgia for the “gross mismanagement of this election and to protect future elections from unconstitutional actions.”

Abrams told her supporters in her recent speech at her election headquarters on Nov. 16, “In the coming days, we will be filing a major federal lawsuit against the state of Georgia for the gross mismanagement of this election and to protect future elections.”

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The problem is history books may treat Abrams’ 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race like a speed bump. Or that’s how history responded in 2000 when Obama’s lost to Rush. History moved on. Still, who knows what is on the other side of this high-profile political campaign that made Abrams a rising star? While she is wrapping up a high-profile campaign that made her a household name, some prominent Democrats, such as former U.S. Rep. Buddy Darden, are encouraging her to challenge U.S. Senate David Perdue, who stands for re-election in 2020.

“Never stop. Keep using this energy,” Darden recently said in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Keep using these new voters.” Meanwhile, others are urging her to run for the U.S. House if a seat becomes vacant or join a national voting rights advocacy group.

Abrams paused to reflect on the current chain-of-events in a recent tweet, “From the bottom of my heart,” she said, “Thank you.I am so proud of the movement we built. Together, we redefined the politics of possible in the Deep South – but our fight is far from over.”

However, Abrams put a passionate spin in another post on her Twitter account, “We left everything on the field. We shifted the conversation. We demanded that every vote be counted. We made history.”

The path forward for Abrams, who never married or had children, is harder to spot than say for Obama, who told Jim Reynolds, a capital markets manager prominent in Chicago’s African-American community, after his 2000 loss that Michelle was “kicking my butt,” and he didn’t know what his next move should be.

“What do you want to do?” Reynolds asked.

“I don’t want to be a burden to my wife,” Obama said. “I want to make her proud. But no matter what, I’m determined to be successful in politics. I want to go national. I want to run for the United States Senate.”

Reynolds told Obama, “Come hang with me. I know a couple of people. I’ll introduce you around town.”

The rest is history.

While it is impossible to predict what the future holds for Abrams, who has written eight novels under the pseudonym Selena Montgomery, and is the former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, you see shades of Obama in Georgia. For example, Abrams urged her supporters to work for former Democratic congressman John Barrow, who faces a Dec. 4 runoff in his bid to become Georgia’s next secretary of state.

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Meanwhile, Team Abrams aimed to addressed history’s stubborn ebb and flow in a recent tweet, “Movements for change are not built overnight, and they do not end when the polls close. We must continue the fight for progress … because the better, brighter Georgia we seek is always over the next hill.”

Joan Walsh, the author of “What’s the Matter With White People? Finding Our Way in the Next America,” recently said in an op/ed, on Abrams, in The Nation, “Don’t mourn. Organize.”

It sounds like something Obama would have said after he lost in 2000.

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