Democrat Stacey Abrams roamed through an Atlanta eatery Wednesday, shaking hands with customers as she talked about her economic policy. At the state Capitol, her allies kicked off a statewide tour aiming fire at Abrams’ two GOP adversaries in the race for governor.
Democrats are trying to make the most of the GOP infighting over the next two months, as Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp engage in a July 24 runoff battle for the Republican nomination for governor.
And Abrams has telegraphed a sharper focus on economic issues to try to appeal to a wider swath of voters ahead of the November election. At Homegrown, an intown Atlanta restaurant, she called for greater “economic inclusion” of smaller businesses struggling to attract capital and a trained workforce.
“The people of Georgia are focused on how we can make their lives better, how we can help make the freedom and opportunity for them to thrive,” she said. “We need to talk about how we increase the opportunities for small businesses and how we make the state safer for everyone.”
Both Republican candidates have called for deeper tax cuts and tighter spending, and both have tried to cast Abrams as a far-left liberal with financial baggage. But they’ve been focused on a runoff battle revolving mainly around who would be the most rock-ribbed conservative in Georgia’s top office.
Abrams, meanwhile, sees an opening. She trained her message during the primary campaign on a mix of progressive issues and economic policies, but she seems likely to pursue a more intense general election spotlight on her pledge for a more “diverse economy” and a vow to expand Medicaid.
Her campaign recently released an internal poll that emphasized that path, finding that a majority of Georgia voters wanted to hear candidates focused on jobs and opportunity rather than social issues such as gun rights.
She’s getting backup from the Democratic Party of Georgia, which this week released a pair of minute-long ads that spotlight attacks from Cagle and Kemp’s GOP rivals, featuring barbs that former state Sen. Hunter Hill and executive Clay Tippins leveled at the candidates in debates and interviews.
And the party set up a three-day blitz of press conferences in Atlanta, Columbus and Savannah featuring down-ticket candidates.
On the steps of the Georgia Capitol, former U.S. Rep. John Barrow assailed the Republican candidates for trying to impose their religious views on businesses. Both Cagle and Kemp have vowed to sign a “religious liberty” measure that Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed.
“We can still do better,” said Barrow, the Democratic nominee for secretary of state. “We must trade up. Let’s not trade down.”
Republicans have tried to push back. GOP groups have released ads criticizing Abrams’ financial record and her debt to the Internal Revenue Service. The Georgia GOP also demanded she release her tax returns, which she has said she’ll do once a Republican nominee emerges. Neither Cagle nor Kemp has yet to release his records.
“We’re glad to hear that Abrams plans to release her tax returns, but we’ve seen this play before,” said Carmen Foskey, the state GOP’s executive director. “First she punts, then she amends her financial disclosures and tries to figure out what her story is going to be.”
Abrams said she has been “honest and transparent” about her debt, which she said she’s repaying.
“But I also don’t intend to let this campaign be fought on negative attempts to undermine who we are and what the issues are,” she said. “And the issues that matter for this election are how we make certain that every Georgian has the freedom and opportunity to thrive.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is covering the issues and candidates in a busy election year. Look for more at PoliticallyGeorgia.com as the state approaches the next political milepost, the July 24 Republican runoff for governor.