Former President Barack Obama lined up behind Stacey Abrams on Wednesday in Georgia’s race for governor, setting up a November contest that pits two of the nation’s most powerful political figures on opposing sides.
President Donald Trump’s support for GOP nominee Brian Kemp in July helped power the secretary of state to a dominating runoff victory, and a last-minute visit from Vice President Mike Pence helped seal the deal.
Obama’s endorsement of Abrams, along with lieutenant governor candidate Sarah Riggs Amico and two statehouse candidates, raised the possibility that the current and former president could both visit the state to energize their party’s voters.
The four Democrats were part of an initial group of 81 candidates from across the country that Obama endorsed. His office said more endorsements were on the way as he prepared to campaign for Democrats ahead of the midterm vote.
In a statement, Obama singled out Abrams as a candidate who is “not running a campaign built on division or distraction” but focused on building a Georgia “where everyone’s voice is heard.”
The contest between Abrams and Kemp in November is expected to draw record amounts of money and attention and foreshadow the 2020 presidential contest.
Most Georgia Republicans have already circled their wagons around Kemp, the current secretary of state who earned the “full and total endorsement” of Trump in July. Already leading in the polls, the boost helped Kemp trounce Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in the runoff.
Kemp’s spokesman, Ryan Mahoney, said it was no surprise that Obama and “every left-wing, radical politician in the country” is backing Abrams.
“Georgians twice rejected Barack Obama’s failed policies and this November they will reject his radical, hand-picked candidate for governor,” he added.
Abrams has secured the backing of national Democratic heavyweights, including former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, all considered potential 2020 contenders.
But Obama’s backing gives Abrams, the former Georgia House Democratic leader, another shot in the arm. She said his support reinforces a campaign “grounded in hope, optimism, and a boundless belief” in Georgia.
Amico, a first-time candidate running for Georgia’s No. 2 job, said she was honored to receive Obama’s endorsement and praised his “consistent, compassionate leadership.”
Her Republican opponent, former state Rep. Geoff Duncan, said through a spokesman that he hoped Amico followed up with “the coveted Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi endorsements” -- two party leaders deeply unpopular with the GOP electorate.
Down the ticket
Obama also backed statehouse candidates Matthew Wilson and Shelly Hutchinson, both political newcomers angling for Republican-held seats in metro Atlanta’s suburbs.
Hutchinson is running for an open Gwinnett County seat being vacated by David Casas, the state’s first Hispanic Republican legislator, in a suburban swing district that tops Georgia Democrats’ 2018 target list.
Wilson is challenging freshman state Rep. Meagan Hanson, R-Brookhaven, for the purplish 80th Georgia House district, which also includes parts of Chamblee and Sandy Springs.
Missing from Obama’s list was Democratic Secretary of State nominee John Barrow, a centrist who frequently voted against Obama’s legislative priorities while serving in the U.S. House, and any of the Democrats challenging Georgia GOP incumbents in Congress.
Despite his popularity among Democrats, Obama never carried Georgia during his two general election contests. He lost the popular vote to Republican John McCain by roughly 5 percentage points in 2008, and Mitt Romney won Georgia by nearly 8 points four years later.
In addition to endorsing Democrats, Obama’s team said the former president also plans to stay involved on redistricting issues this year through the Democratic Redistricting Committee.
The group, led by his former Attorney General Eric Holder, filed a federal lawsuit earlier this summer alleging Georgia’s 14 congressional districts violated the Voting Rights Act because they were drawn to limit the political power of black voters.