Stacey Abrams’s big 2020 announcement: I’m here to let you know that I’m … not running for president

Every time I start to laugh at the idea of a candidate who’s never held statewide or federal office running for president, I remember who we elected in 2016. And then I remember that Boot Edge Edge is not only still (sort of) in contention for the Democratic nod this year, he was the single biggest fundraiser in the field in the second quarter.

Americans reeeeeally like the idea of fresh faces in politics nowadays. Abrams’s lack of congressional or executive experience might have been something of a virtue if she had jumped in.

Emphasis on “might have.” Before we go all-in on the “voters want outsiders” theory, let’s remember that the guy leading the field — and leading Trump in head-to-head polling — has been in Washington since the dawn of time.

Anyway, Abrams has finally said no to 2020:

Stacey Abrams, the Georgia politician who captured national attention during her unsuccessful run for governor in 2018, has decided not to run for president after publicly contemplating a bid for months, according to people familiar with her thinking…

Ms. Abrams made her decision in recent days, aides said, as she determined she was comfortable with current crop of Democratic candidates.

The decision by Ms. Abrams, a former Democratic leader in the Georgia House of Representatives, ends months of speculation, some of which was fueled by Ms. Abrams herself. Repeatedly, she has said she believes she is qualified to be in the presidential field, and she has held several private sit-down meetings with other candidates, encouraging them to focus on voter suppression and fair elections as they crisscross the country for votes.

She’ll spend her time instead fighting voter suppression efforts. Oh, and advancing her crankish theory that she’s the true winner of last year’s Georgia gubernatorial race, a theory which racial politics requires the entirety of the Democratic political class to accept uncritically. And which will obviously be used as “tu quoque” Exhibit A in 2020 if Trump loses the election and begins complaining that it was stolen from him.

As for the timing, I assume she had a reached a point where she couldn’t wait any longer to declare. The bar for qualifying for the debates by polling at a certain level and attracting a certain number of donors is inching higher as the weeks roll on. If she waited until September to jump in, she might have missed that month’s debate and then been at risk of being overlooked as an option by Democratic voters generally. The moment seemed opportune for her to get in, though, given how neither Kamala Harris nor Cory Booker did any damage to Biden at the second debate. Those three candidates are competing for black voters; Harris looked like she was making inroads with Biden’s black support after the first debate but then she fell back after the second, leaving Grandpa Joe to reconsolidate that support. If Harris had continued to climb, Abrams might have reasoned that black Democrats were already shifting towards a “fresh face” candidate, making it that much harder for her to grab their attention and force another shift after she got in. As it is, the competition to see who can lure black Obama supporters away from Biden remains wide open, with Harris and Booker momentarily looking like pretenders. Abrams decided to pass on the race anyway instead of taking a shot. Huh.

Chuck Schumer tried to get her to challenge David Perdue for Senate in Georgia next year but it sounds from the story quoted above like she won’t stand for any office. That’s a tough break for Dems, as Abrams would have been something of a cause celebre for Georgia Dems and might have been able to deliver enough black Democrats to the polls to make Trump sweat the state in his own contest. He won it by only five points in 2016, remember; between the suburbs there trending blue and Abrams turning out younger and black voters, maybe Georgia would have been a toss-up. Abrams probably concluded, though, that it was too heavy a lift with too much on the line for her own career. Perdue’s job approval in Georgia in the last quarter was a healthy 48/26, and unlike her opponent in the governor’s race, he’s an incumbent. Georgia is still a red-leaning state so Trump’s presence at the top of the ballot is likely to boost Republican turnout from last year, when she lost the gubernatorial race narrowly. If she ran and lost to Perdue, she’d be a two-time loser and her political star would begin to dim. Too risky.

She’s better off hanging around as a potential VP pick (although I think she’s too inexperienced for that) or hoping for a Trump victory, which would set her up well for 2022. She’d have her pick of races that year: She could run for Johnny Isakson’s Senate seat or challenge Brian Kemp again for governor. Isakson will be 77 and may be disinclined to run again if the state is trending purple. Either way, with Trump two years into his second term, Democrats would be primed for another backlash-fueled wave election in the midterms, which might be enough to lift Abrams to victory. She’s young enough that she doesn’t need to run this year. Better to pick her spots and wait for a more winnable election.

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