Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia, is up against a fellow governor in a generally favorable Republican environment as she tries to live up to high expectations after a narrow defeat in the 2018 race. But as election day nears, he’s found an issue to focus his campaign around: protecting abortion rights in Georgia.
“It’s going to dominate the conversation,” Abrams told CNN in an interview Saturday while campaigning at an Atlanta farmers market.
In particular, Abrams focused on a 2019 law signed by his Republican opponent, Gov. Brian Kemp, that bans most abortions when early heart activity is detected, which can be as early as six weeks into pregnancy, when many women don’t have it. however you know they are pregnant. After initially being blocked, the law went into effect earlier this year after the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. After the reversal against Wade, the decision energizes Democrats across the country, helping to shift the midterm political landscape into more volatile territory. Abrams is testing how much state President Joe Biden can swing things in his favor in 2020, but that has long voted Republican.
“Women deserve full citizenship in the United States and certainly in the state of Georgia, and they are denied that because of Brian Kemp’s 6-week ban,” said Abrams, who lost to Kemp by less than 2 points four years ago. He says he hears outraged health care providers as he travels across the state. “We’re not only driving doctors and nurses out of the state, we’re probably going to lose jobs. And that should be scary for anyone regardless of your political persuasion.”
Meanwhile, the Republican governor has supported the law, which provides some exemptions, and has otherwise remained focused on pocketbook issues. Asked by CNN about South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham’s recent proposal to ban most abortions nationwide after 15 weeks, his campaign said Kemp has “consistently affirmed” his opposition to abortion.
“Instead of being sidetracked by the latest national media frenzy, he will continue to focus on bringing relief to Georgia workers facing 40 years of high inflation and creating economic opportunity in every corner of the state,” campaign spokesman Tate Mitchell Kemp said. in an emailed statement.
Abrams and Kemp’s different approaches reflect divergent theories about what drives swing voters in a state where elections are increasingly being decided by narrow margins. Georgia is also one of the most high-profile Senate races of the year, with Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock serving a full six-year term. Nationally, Democrats who have expressed their opposition to restrictions on abortion rights have driven better-than-expected results in recent special election polls. But Republicans are betting that voters are more concerned about inflation and other pressing economic problems.
A September Quinnipiac poll shows just how close the race is, with 50 percent of likely voters supporting Kemp and 48 percent supporting Abrams. Quinnipiac found that 57% of Georgia voters said it was very important for a candidate to share their views on abortion. Within that group, 63% support Abrams and 36% support Kemp. But in the same poll, 41 percent of likely voters ranked “inflation” as the most pressing issue facing Georgia, and 12 percent said the same about “abortion.” The numbers were similar in a new Marist poll, which found that 40 percent of registered voters in Georgia called “inflation” the most important issue in this election, and just 16 percent said “abortion.” The Marist poll found 50 percent of registered voters favored Kemp and 44 percent favored Abrams.
“Governor Kemp’s position is his position, and there are far more important issues for the state of Georgia than the abortion issue,” Dr. Barry Zisholtz, a Kemp supporter, told CNN following the governor’s remarks at a Republican Jewish Coalition forum in Sandy on Sunday. the sources “People just want to do it on one issue, but I think people have to worry about paying for groceries and gas, too.”
But Abrams supporters say abortion could be the deciding factor in swaying women who previously voted for Kemp.
“I think it could be a difference in our state,” said Rosa Thurnher, owner of an Atlanta Mexican restaurant who was at the farmers market Saturday.
“I hope that women will be kind to other women and know that we need to make some changes and protect this right, for our future generations of our sisters.”
The daughter of Methodist pastors with roots in southern Mississippi, Abrams has not always supported abortion rights. She revealed at the Emily’s List Gala in May how, as a teenager, she regretted rejecting a friend who suggested she needed an abortion.
Abrams said that as a young professional, when he thought more deeply about his views, he realized that his attitude had changed.
“I was wrong, but I worked hard to correct myself,” he said at the gala.
Abrams currently does not support any government restrictions on abortion, arguing that it is a medical issue that should not be tied to “arbitrary” deadlines. Along the way, she talks about her personal evolution around abortion and last month brought up the topic at a panel discussion for women who have lost a pregnancy.
Since the Supreme Court’s decision this summer, Abrams’ campaign has continued to push Kemp to abort.
One of his television commercials has called Kemp’s stance on abortion “extreme and dangerous” and says he “signed the most extreme abortion law in the nation.” The ad suggests Kemp would seek even more restrictions than current state law, based on his personal anti-abortion stance.
And some anti-abortion activists are pushing the governor to go even further. Georgia Right to Life is circulating a petition among activist groups, first reported by the Atlanta Journal Constitution and obtained by CNN, designed to pressure Kemp to call a special session of the general assembly to pass legislation that would ban nearly all abortions in the state.
“We have no plans to call a special session and the governor has made it clear that his focus is on implementing the 2019 legislation,” spokesman Cody Hall Kemp said.
While Kemp says he is committed to enforcing current abortion law, he has taken a more strident tone on the issue than some of his fellow Republicans nationally.
“I understand that people disagree about when abortion should be legal or when it shouldn’t be,” he said at a campaign event in Atlanta last week.
When asked about the problem at hand, Kemp often brings up his wife, Marty, and his three grown daughters. He touts the abortion restrictions he signed into law, but also points to other policy initiatives that demonstrate his administration respects the “sanctity of life.”
“We have also reformed the reception. We’ve reformed foster care,” Kemp said last week at a conference held by the Family Research Council, a conservative interest group.
But the governor is quick to turn to economic issues: from criticizing President Joe Biden’s record on inflation to economic development and his willingness to keep businesses and churches open in the state during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A person familiar with the campaign told CNN that Kemp’s internal data suggests inflation and the cost of living remain top issues on voters’ minds, with abortion lower on the list of concerns.
But Democrats remain convinced that the abortion limit has opened up independent and even Republican voters to support Abrams.
“I think his stance on abortion will help him in the election. … People who are pro-life or anti-abortion try to make it seem like abortion is a partisan issue, but I don’t think it really is,” said Cazembe Murphy Jackson, a community organizer in Jonesboro.