Both left and center-left claim Stacey Abrams. Who is right ?
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For left-wing Democrats, Stacey Abrams, who is in her second bid for Georgia governor, is a superstar: a nationally recognized voting champion, a symbol of her state’s changing demographics and a political visionary who registered and mobilized tens of thousands of new voters – the kind of grassroots organization progressives have long preached.
“I don’t think anyone can call Stacey Abrams moderate,” said Aimee Allison, founder of She the People, a progressive advocacy group for women of color.
The moderates would not agree. They see Ms. Abrams as an ally for rejecting leftist policies that center-left Democrats have rejected, such as “Medicare for all,” the Green New Deal to fight climate change, and law enforcement funding. in response to police violence.
“I don’t know if anyone in the party can say, ‘She’s one of us,'” said Matt Bennett, founder of the center-left group Third Way. “We cannot pretend it is moderate,” he added. “But progressives cannot say that she is progressive and not moderate. We are both right.
The question of how to define Ms Abrams, 48, an alleged Democratic flag-bearer in one of the most high-profile races of 2022, takes on new urgency in the party’s current landscape.
Moderates and progressives clashed in Washington throughout 2021, frustrating a White House struggling to reach consensus on its priorities and continuing an ideological debate that has raged within the party for years. There is also a thirst for new blood across the party, given the advanced age of President Biden, Congressional leaders, and major progressives like Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Locally, whether Ms Abrams retains her credibility with both Democratic wings may determine how well she can withstand Republican attacks. Those close to her campaign say they expect an extremely close race and the key is to hold the suburban moderates who supported her in 2018 while sufficiently exciting the new Georgian voters who have registered since that election. .
Republicans in Georgia – who are awaiting Ms Abrams in the general election – are eager to denounce her as a leftist radical displaced in a state that was a GOP stronghold until she narrowly fell into the Democratic column in 2020. Governor Brian Kemp, who faces a major challenge in May from former Sen. David Perdue, who has the backing of former President Donald J. Trump, has released five digital ads attacking Ms Abrams since she announced his campaign on December 1.
“Stacey Abrams’ far-left program has no place in Georgia,” one of them worryingly warns.
But a review of Ms Abrams’ policy statements and television commercials, as well as interviews with politicians who have known her for years, reveal a leader who has carefully calibrated her positions, making sure to avoid drifting down a path Democrat or another.
His allies say fluidity is an asset and stress how politics is just a way for voters to choose which candidate to rally behind. Racial representation and the unique political background of the southern United States are also factors that determine whether a candidate can credibly claim progressive good faith, they argue.
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Steve Phillips, an early supporter and a major Progressive Democratic donor, said Ms Abrams’ political strategy was progressive, even though her political positions were more moderate.
“It’s hard for white progressives to be too critical of someone who is so strongly and fiercely black and feminine without apologizing,” he said. “Its authenticity comes from the sectors that are at the heart of the progressive base. “
Ms. Abrams’ approach involves risks. In the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race, several candidates who sought to straddle the line between moderate and progressive policies lost the confidence of significant numbers of voters on both sides, as activists pressed for pledges. firm on issues such as health care, climate change, the expansion of the Supreme Court and reparations for descendants of slaves.
At times Ms Abrams has used her perch to speak out against progressive causes and defend the Democratic establishment. She said attempts to fund police services after George Floyd’s murder created a “false choice” and said the services should be reformed instead.
On health care, she focused on expanding Medicaid rather than supporting a single payer system. And in 2020, a think tank founded by Ms Abrams released a South-focused climate plan that embraced efforts to encourage renewable energy, but stopped ahead of ambitious goals pushed by progressive activists and lawmakers like the Representative. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York.
But Ben Jealous, a former Democratic candidate for governor of Maryland who heads the progressive People for the American Way group, said progressives should still trust Ms Abrams. “The Green New Deal is designed for the industrialized and unionized North,” he said. “And you have to translate that to the South. He added, “She does that.”
Several of Ms Abrams’ allies have welcomed a review of her political record, arguing that characterizing her as a progressive has only fueled Republican attacks.
Ms. Abrams declined to be interviewed for this article. When asked how she defines herself ideologically, a spokesperson, Seth Bringman, said that she “defines herself by her values and her ability to produce results for the common good by navigating groups and ideologies. disparate “.
“She is steadfast in her support for unions and has worked with anti-union companies to end discrimination against the LGBTQ community,” he added. “She is staunchly pro-choice and has coordinated with anti-choice lawmakers to push through criminal justice reform. She is a capitalist who supports regulation and believes that we can fight poverty while praising success.
Such pragmatism encouraged some moderates – including Georgians who served with Ms Abrams on the state capitol – to compare her to other center-left national figures who had credibility with the grassroots, such as Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Mr Bennett, co-founder of Third Way, said Ms Abrams had shown that she “was not going to be pushed around by anyone in the party, center or left”.
He added: “This independence has made her a very viable candidate.”
Carolyn Hugley, a Georgia state representative who has known Ms Abrams since 2011, said she has always sought to be seen as a “maker” and organizer. As minority leader, budget freak Ms Abrams aligned with Tea Party members and some church groups to oppose a Republican tax reform bill.
“If you had asked me 10 years ago if the franchise was what she was going to be known for, I would probably say no,” Ms. Hugley said.
In Georgia, Ms. Abrams rose to prominence for her willingness to work with anyone, even though it came as a backlash. In 2011, she lent bipartisan credibility to an effort by Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, to restructure the state’s scholarship program for low-income students. Several Democrats criticized her decision to stand by her side at a press conference, saying she was giving a gift to an incumbent who had sought to cut the program and was an example of Ms Abrams pushing her own ambitions to- above the long-term interests of the party.
“This has been misinterpreted,” said DuBose Porter, former chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia. “But the real Stacey Abrams will always do it. And this real Stacey Abrams is someone who cares about problems.
Mr Jealous, of People for the American Way, said he recalled Ms Abrams encouraging him to contact Newt Gingrich, Georgia’s Republican and former Speaker of the House, to gain cross-cutting support for prison reform of State.
This campaign cycle, even Ms Abrams’ supporters admit stepping up the spotlight could once again test her political talent. The prospect of her becoming the first black woman in the country to be elected governor has already renewed rumors about her possible presidential ambitions.
Unlike 2018, when Ms Abrams was not yet a national figure, or during Mr Biden’s search for vice president, in which she was considered a long shot, she enters the 2022 race as a name. high profile on the Democratic roster – and a prime target of Republicans.
The Virginia governor’s run offered a glimpse of what Ms Abrams could face, with Democrats on the defensive and Republicans hammering them over Mr Biden’s vaccination mandates, the way schools teach the racism and the removal of Confederate statues.
Ms Abrams rallied Virginia Democrats behind Democratic candidate former Governor Terry McAuliffe days before the election, testifying to her position in the party. In contrast, Ms Ocasio-Cortez said she and other progressives had been urged to stay away.
When announcing her candidacy in December, Abrams stuck to local themes, highlighting her work during the pandemic and her efforts to expand access to Medicaid in Georgia. In the 2018 gubernatorial race, she did not release an announcement on race or voting rights, according to a list provided by her assistants.
Last month, at an online campaign event with more than 350 ‘One Georgia’ themed supporters, Ms Abrams avoided political specifics and searing cultural conversations, instead focusing on issues like the coronavirus and the education – and on it Republican opponents.
“When people ask what’s the biggest difference between me and the current governor, it’s that I love Georgians,” Abrams said. “I like them all. Those who agree with me and those who don’t.
While Democrats may want to label it, Mr Jealous advised against this, citing two lessons he learned about Ms Abrams when they first met as 19-year-old college activists. The first: she wouldn’t be pushed to go where she wasn’t comfortable. The second: “Never speak after her,” he said.
Mr Phillips, the Democratic donor, said he was convinced the war between moderates and progressives would not affect Ms Abrams in 2022.
When, then, would it matter?
“If and when she runs for president,” he said.
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