Georgia Governor Brian Kemp Plays the “Angry Black Woman” Card on Stacey Abrams

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp Plays the “Angry Black Woman” Card on Stacey Abrams

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp Plays the “Angry Black Woman” Card on Stacey Abrams

In Monday’s debate, Kemp lied about his record on guns and the economy and condescended to his Democratic opponent.


The contrast between Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker and the state’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Stacey Abrams, could not be more stark. I’m not talking about intelligence or integrity, though there’s that, but the expectations that political pundits and the media generally set for the two candidates in advance of their first debate.

“The bar is very low” for Walker, GOP consultant Brendan Buck, a Paul Ryan alum, admitted on MSNBC, since the former football player has himself said, “I’m not a smart guy.” And because he didn’t merely babble—although he did babble, a lot—he got unusual acclaim for “helping himself” after Friday night’s debate with Senator Raphael Warnock. “A clear improvement in the way he talked about policy,” The New York Times’ Maya King told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on Monday night.

For Abrams, the bar could not have been higher. Having lost to Brian Kemp by 55,000 votes in 2018, she “acknowledged” that Kemp won the race, but refused to officially concede, citing the unfair voting laws enforced by Kemp as secretary of state that she said disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters, many of them Black. For that act of defiance, she’s been punished by comparisons to election denier Donald Trump—although, instead of inciting a violent insurrection, she turned to organizing harder than ever, and is widely credited with helping Joe Biden win the state and Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock flip the Senate for Democrats.

Now, trailing Kemp in the polls, she faces complaints that she’s underperforming among Black voters, and an undercurrent of suspicion from the mainstream media that reads something like: “If you think you won in 2018, why aren’t you winning now?”

Indeed, in Monday night’s debate in Atlanta, the very first question she faced was slightly hostile: Though Georgia voters support her stance on abortion, guns, and other issues, she is trailing Kemp (narrowly). Why?

“The reason people are on my side is because I’m on the right side of history and on the right side of the issues,” she said. “But we also know that polls are a snapshot. The question is also who are they taking a picture of.” She has long made the case that her coalition of young voters, voters of color, and women is not adequately being counted by pollsters.

But it was Kemp who turned things ugly. When he got a chance to pose a question to Abrams, he cited his support among Georgia’s sheriffs, and asked her if any sheriffs supported her. It was clearly designed to give him a chance to describe her as soft on crime, which he then did. When Abrams replied with a nuanced answer about the need to balance “safety and justice,” Kemp accused her of having no law enforcement backing, which provoked this from Abrams: “I have the support of sheriffs, advocates, victims, those that wanted to be treated fairly in our system. I have to have conversations with the entirety of Georgia. I don’t have the luxury of being part of the good ol’ boys club where we don’t have to focus on the needs of people.”

That’s when Kemp played the angry Black woman card, with a heaping portion of condescension. “I know Miss Abrams is upset and mad,” the governor cooed, again alleging that she was trying to hide her radical criminal justice agenda. (He went back and forth between calling her “Ms. Abrams” and “Miss Abrams,” which seemed designed to remind voters that she is unmarried.)

Given a chance to pose a question to Kemp, Abrams asked him what he’d do to bring equity to the state’s contracting and procurement system, citing research showing that voters of color make up 48 percent of the state population but get less than 13 percent of state business support. Kemp dodged the direct question and pointed to the state’s relatively strong economy. Abrams parried that he could “just cheat off my paper” if he didn’t have a plan of his own.

Kemp tried to claim credit for the state’s $6 billion budget surplus, which he said was the result of his keeping the state mostly open as Covid killed 38,000 Georgians, and promised to return $2 billion of it in tax cuts. Abrams credited healthy federal grants for Covid relief and inflation reduction and promised to put the surplus into education funding, including universal pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds and an $11,000 pay hike for teachers.

Abrams might have gotten off her best line when she caught Kemp in a lie. Though he boasted of signing a bill that eliminated state eligibility requirements for “concealed carry” handgun permits, he also insisted that the federal government requires background checks on all gun purchases anyway. Abrams interjected, correctly: “If you purchase a weapon through a gun show or private sale,” there is no federal background check. When the moderator cut her off, Abrams apologized for interrupting Kemp, which struck me as a little odd. Since the moderator wasn’t fact-checking Kemp’s false claim, why shouldn’t Abrams? I wondered if the “upset and mad” insult had lingered.

Meanwhile, the person doing 99 percent of the interrupting was Libertarian candidate Shane Hazel, so little known that The New York Times called him “Chase Hazel” in a pre-debate write-up. Hazel was the wild card in the debate, using as much time as possible to call for “Austrian economics” and the abolishment of taxation, gun laws, public education, drug laws, all restrictions on property rights, and so on. But while he is further away from Abrams ideologically, he hit Kemp much harder. Some of the hits were unfair—he blamed him for excessive Covid restrictions, when the Georgia governor imposed anything but, and for “killing” Georgians by encouraging Covid vaccines. That was bizarre.

But the Libertarian also let loose with an indictment of Kemp’s criminal justice record that Abrams could never get away with, attacking the Republican for refusing to abolish cash bail, no-knock raids, police civil asset forfeiture programs, and other law enforcement abuses, concluding passionately, “Stop going after peaceful people!” Hazel might not be your cup of tea—he isn’t mine—but he used his time well, took more by constantly interrupting, and may have given conservatives who don’t like Kemp a place to land if they can’t see backing Abrams. Georgia election laws require a candidate to get more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff, and for the first time it seemed Hazel could force Kemp into a special election with Abrams.

Of course, Abrams would prefer to win outright, since the voter restriction law Kemp signed last year, in front of a lovely painting of a plantation, in case you forgot that detail, restricted the runoff campaign to four weeks, down from the eight weeks that no doubt helped Warnock and Ossoff win in 2021. That would  put the election on December 6—and the deadline for registering to vote in that special election, should it happen, has already passed.

Despite expectations that the repeal of the constitutional right to abortion would make reproductive rights a top issue in this race, there was only one question about abortion. But it was a good one: Kemp has been secretly recorded telling supporters he would consider abolishing access to “Plan B”—the so-called “morning after” pill—and potentially other contraception methods, and he was asked whether he would follow through. He insisted that he had no plans to do so, and no plans to push through any more abortion restrictions. Although having signed a bill that bans abortion after six weeks, it’s hard to imagine how he’d come up with a worse law. But it’s always wrong to underestimate Republicans on that count.

Abrams summed up her campaign this way: “This is a governor who for the last four years has beat his chest but delivered very little for most Georgians. He has weakened gun laws and flooded our streets. He has weakened our privacy rights and women’s rights…. the most dangerous thing facing Georgia is four more years of Brian Kemp.” It was a strong performance, but we’ll see if any minds were changed. Supporters of each top candidate claimed their favorite won, and the major write-ups on the debate—the Times, Politico, and CNN all headlined theirs as “takeaways,” which seems lazy and breezy for such a high-stakes race—declared no clear winner. Yesterday was the first day of early voting in Georgia, with a record 125,000 Georgians casting ballots. We’ll find out the real winner soon.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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