METTER, Ga. — There is a core Republican message regarding Democrat Stacey Abrams in Georgia’s gubernatorial election: Be afraid. Be very afraid.
“Defend yourself. Defeat Abrams,” says an ad from the National Rifle Association, in big red-and-white letters.
Abrams’s policies “should scare you to death,” said her opponent, Republican Brian Kemp.
“A lot of bad things will happen” if Abrams is elected Tuesday, President Trump said in a rally on Sunday with Kemp.
Trump’s entire midterm election message is based around motivating his base to get to the polls by using fear. He has dedicated most of his message to raising alarms about a caravan of migrants in Mexico that is in reality hundreds of miles away from the U.S. border.
And the GOP, in Georgia and in races across the country, is dependent on Trump voters — many of whom have not traditionally voted in midterm elections — to get to the polls.
But in the Deep South, in a state with a long history of entrenched racial injustice against people of color, a message intended to frighten matters when it is preached from white politicians to a Republican Party made up overwhelmingly of white voters. And it matters when the subtext is the prospect of a black woman potentially holding the most powerful political position in the state.
Abrams, if she were to win on Tuesday, would in fact be the first African-American women elected governor in American history. The polls show a dead heat, and political insiders have wondered in recent days if the race could be headed for a runoff if a Libertarian candidate gets around 2 percent of the vote, and neither Kemp nor Abrams reaches 50 percent.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, head of the Democratic Governors Association, campaigned with Abrams on Monday and said the Republican rhetoric was racially charged.
“We’ve seen dog whistles in Florida,” Inslee said, regarding the gubernatorial race there. “We’ve seen dog whistles in Georgia. The latest is Trump saying [Abrams is] not qualified.”
There have been explicitly racist incidents in the last few days in Georgia. A robocall that referred to Abrams as a “negress” was reported Friday.
When asked what she would say to any Georgians who might consider her a threat, Abrams steered well clear of talking about race.
“I’m the only one with a record to stand on, protecting access to education for all of Georgia’s children,” Abrams told Yahoo News. “I’m the only one with a plan for health care … and I’m the only one who has a real plan to create jobs across the state of Georgia.”
Later in the day, she did touch on her skin color, saying she did not want voters to support her because she’s black, but because she was a better candidate.
And on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Abrams said that if she were elected, it should not be a signal that “anyone is being pushed out.”
“It simply means that more are being added to the conversation,” she said.
Abrams did use strong and heated language of her own to criticize Kemp at one of her campaign stops on Monday.
“If we want deliverance against an enemy who is the architect of voter suppression,” she said, referring to Kemp, “then we’ve got to vote our hearts out.”
Kemp is the secretary of state in Georgia, meaning he is running for governor and overseeing the Georgia election at the same time. He and his defenders say there is no conflict of interest there.
“To argue that it is somehow nefarious … it’s not the reality of how elections are administered. The secretary of state physically doesn’t touch a ballot that’s cast in the election,” said Rob Simms, a former deputy secretary of state under Karen Handel. But Handel, a Republican, resigned her position in 2009 in order to run for governor at the time, though that decision had to do with rules governing fundraising.
Abrams’s description of Kemp as the “architect of voter suppression” refers to his office’s aggressive use of strict rules and regulations to remove voters from the rolls. He has taken more than 2 million people off the rolls since 2010, and has created uncertainty about whether thousands of active voters can cast ballots this year through a process known as “exact match.”
Kemp says these measures were about preventing voter fraud. Yet these practices have disproportionately impacted African-American voters in Georgia, and studies have consistently shown that fears of widespread or coordinated voter fraud are unfounded.
Last Friday, a federal judge ruled that Kemp’s office must relax its enforcement of the exact match system, calling it a “severe burden” on minority voters in Georgia.
U.S. District Judge Eleanor Ross said in her ruling that she had “grave concerns … about the differential treatment inflicted on a group of individuals who are predominantly minorities” by Kemp’s policies.
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