The symbolism was tough to miss: The Stacey Abrams campaign’s election-night “watch party” sat adjacent to Senator Raphael Warnock’s, one hotel away, but in an entirely different world.
We knew fairly early on Tuesday night that Abrams lost her rematch with Governor Brian Kemp. It looks like we won’t know whether Warnock can hold his seat against football star Herschel Walker until a December 6 runoff. But he at least survived, politically, to fight another day. Abrams did not, at least not for now.
Given Walker’s complete lack of qualification for the job, his constantly unfolding personal scandals—first, children he’d never publicly acknowledged (he admitted that), then two abortions he allegedly coerced (he denied that)—his eking his way into a runoff should be shocking. “It shouldn’t even be close,” Democrat Beverly Glover of East Macon told me, outside a Warnock rally on Monday. “They just put him up to block the reverend.”
Indeed, they did. Republicans love nothing more than pushing out a Black man to do their political bidding. Senator Lindsey Graham, the sad Donald Trump bootlicker from South Carolina, has been here regularly to try to pull Walker over the finish line. On Monday, he spoke a rare unvarnished truth, saying he opposed statehood for Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico because it would “dilute our power.” Whose power? White power.
But that’s all that Walker needed as validation. If control of the Senate comes down to Warnock’s seat, expect everyone and their brother and sister to be in this beautiful and fractured state before December 6.
Right now, though, all we know for sure is that Abrams lost, by a bigger margin than she did four years ago. “Even though I came up short, I’m pretty tall,” she said in her concession speech. “I will never stop running for the state of Georgia.” It wasn’t the alleged “Black men won’t vote for her” (although thanks, Killer Mike). They did. It was largely the media flattering Kemp for refusing to commit treason at the behest of Donald Trump. Luckily for Warnock, I guess, there was genuine ticket-splitting, where voters backed both him and Kemp. Kendra Cotton, CEO of the New Georgia Project, noticed white churches near her Black neighborhood in Powder Springs placed Kemp and Warnock signs on their lawn. “I didn’t see a Walker sign this morning,” Cotton told me, even though her share of Cobb County got gerrymandered into Q-Anon fave Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene’s district.
Warnock ran his campaign down the middle. Disciplined throughout the race, he boasted of his bipartisan wins for Georgia’s farmers and veterans, and his role in capping insulin prices for seniors on Medicare. If indeed there is a runoff, that will be his pitch. He’s been ready for it.
People are asking everywhere: Did the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, taking away the right to abortion, matter? It clearly did. Janelle Lukens, 33, works in fertility medicine. She rushed into the glorious Midtown Fox Theatre to cast her ballot for a woman’s right to choose. “Every single day I see couples and individuals wanting to have a baby,” she told me, but Georgia’s ban of abortion after six weeks has doctors worried about what they can actually do with embryos. “We are seeing doctors leaving our state,” she said. Lukens voted for Abrams and Warnock. “I’d like to start a family one of these days.”
Later, at the Abrams watch party, local leaders lined up to praise her, even as the depressing news was coming in. “You know why Georgia turned blue in 2020?” Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens asked the crowd. “Because of the hard work of Stacey Abrams.” Another speaker hailed “divine intervention” as what would pull her over the finish line.
It did not. We will be taking apart these election results for a while. But three observations from people I respect stood out. Abrams became a national political celebrity, chosen to do the anti-Trump State of the Union rebuttal in 2019, and widely perceived as running for vice president the next year. Hey, that’s ambition! But women are punished for it.
Some people say she slid too far to the left, as polling showed her consistently behind Kemp. In her first debate with the governor, she calmly handled his baiting over the number of sheriffs he had backing him, which was a clear attempt to paint her as soft on crime. But in the second debate, she slipped. “I’m not a member of the good ol’ boys club,” Abrams said. “So, no, I don’t have 107 sheriffs who want to be able to take Black people off the streets, who want to be able to go without accountability.” That was the takeaway line from that debate, on social media and in the old-fashioned media, and it didn’t help her.
But her divergence from Warnock came months before that. Friends of both say Warnock knew he had to appeal to independents and Republicans to keep his seat, while Abrams’s path was with solid Democrats and the “intermittent” voters who can buoy them.
Still, every woman I talked to mentioned sexism, on or off the record, in explaining how far Abrams lagged behind Warnock. “There has to be a conversation about the misogynistic ideas that keep people from backing women in executive roles” like governor, Kendra Cotton told me. “There are many Black churches where women can’t go behind the pulpit,” she noted. The cultural weight of that prohibition remains strong. “I will not raise my children in that environment,” she adds. “I don’t want to send a signal to my sons that this is appropriate. Our Baptist church is very progressive.”
Her mother, Cotton says, points back to 1973. I thought she was talking about the Roe decision. “No, that’s when women could get credit cards in their own name,” she tells me, laughing, as we realize that both advances happened in the same year. Women haven’t been free so very long, is the point I think she is trying to make.
I have to confess, as I did Tuesday morning, that this election is hugely disappointing, after suddenly-blue Georgia gave us a Democratic president and control of the Senate in 2020 and 2021. But the blue tide in Georgia was always an illusion. This will be a red-trending-purple state for a while yet. The amount of money that poured into these races was phenomenal; both Abrams and Warnock out-raised their GOP opponents. But on the ground, local groups complained that money wasn’t trickling down to them. We’ll learn more in the next few days.
A greeter at a local church polling place who wanted to remain nameless spoke for a lot of Democrats I met here. He was disappointed in the apparent distance between Warnock and Abrams. “We need to be a coalition. That’s what worked [in 2020 and 2021]. You can disagree about issues, but you’re a coalition. What are we now?”
We’ll find out in December.