‘Back to work’: Stacey Abrams said she took ‘17 minutes’ to celebrate Trump defeat and is now focused on Senate

With defeat of ‘orange menace of putrescence,’ voting rights advocate says elections in January critical to prevent Mitch McConnell ‘blocking and denying the needs of Americans’

Alex Woodward
New York
Tuesday 10 November 2020 15:28 GMT
Stacey Abrams tells Stephen Colbert how Georgia flipped in 2020 presidential election

With all eyes on Georgia’s runoff elections for two US Senate seats, Stacey Abrams – who has led a robust voter registration and engagement campaign in the state, following a decades-long effort among Black organisers throughout the south against voter suppression and disenfranchisement – is directing her energies to overturning Mitch McConnell’s Republican-dominated body of Congress.

The state is poised to elect a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since 1992. Ms Abrams has been credited with helping register more than 800,000 new voters in the state.

Senator Kelly Loeffler faces a run-off election against Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock; Senator David Perdue will face Democrat Jon Ossoff. Those elections are on 5 January. Voters must be registered by 7 December to cast their ballots.

“We have to beat both of them,” Ms Abrams said on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Monday. “Mitch McConnell is not a good leader. He is not a good man. We cannot withstand four more years of blocking and denying the needs of Americans.”

President-elect Joe Biden, who secured his victory against Donald Trump following the president’s defeat in Pennsylvania, is leading the state’s vote count by a narrow 12,000 votes.

“We knocked on doors in pockets of communities that have never been touched,” she told CBS on Tuesday. “We kept coming back”

Voter turnout against suppression efforts “changed not just the trajectory of Georgia but the trajectory of the nation,” she said.

She told Mr Colbert that she “had about 17 minutes on Saturday afternoon” to rest following Mr Biden’s declaration of victory.

“I’m good, now I get back to work,” she told the host. “We got to win two Senate races. We can’t dawdle too long.”

The voting rights activist and former Democratic leader in the state’s House of Representatives founded the organisation Fair Fight Action in 2018, the year she lost the state’s gubernatorial election to Republican Brian Kemp.

That race was marred by allegations of widespread voter suppression, with more than 700,000 registered voters purged from the state’s voter rolls, with thousands removed simply because they had not voted in a previous election. Nearly 70 per cent of those voters were Black.

Mr Kemp, then the state’s Secretary of State, was responsible for managing those voter rolls.

More than 200 polling places – mostly in lower-income neighbourhoods with people of colour – had also closed that year.

"I believe it was stolen from the voters," she told CBS. "I just said it can't happen again. And that has been my mission for the last two years."

Ms Abrams lost the election by roughly 55,000 votes among the 4 million cast.

“He was a galvanising force for the intensity of my efforts this time, yes,” Ms Abrams said on The Late Show.

In 2016, 22 per cent of the state’s eligible voters were not registered to vote. That year, the state enacted automatic voter registration for eligible voters

That figure stood at just 2 per cent in 2020. Turnout spiked to 67 per cent.

Election analysts have pointed to an emergent “new South” that was able to flip Georgia, but the rejection of GOP dominance in the state is attributed to growing demographic shifts as well as a tide of Black voters and voters of colour who have endured decades of suppression.

Ms Abrams called it a “now south” movement.

“We keep waiting for this massive change – it’s gonna happen incrementally, and it’s been happening,” Ms Abrams said. “It’s time for the demographic changes that occurred to meet up with the electoral power that’s possible. But that’s not going to happen without us doing the work of educating, engaging, supporting, and then being honest that it’s not a single election. We don’t elect saviours. We elect people to work for us … and we hold them accountable.”

With Georgia voters fighting for stronger access to healthcare, affordable housing and education, “we lift the rest of the country, because when you solve these challenges in the south, you solve them in the nation,” she said.

If there was any doubt about Democrats’ victories in 2020 elections, despite the ideological and strategic debates among lawmakers over the party’s future, and election losses among some Democrats that give the party only a marginal majority in the House, Ms Abrams said, “We really won.”

“There is an orange menace of putrescence who will no longer be able to occupy the White House,” she said on The Late Show. “There is an incoming president who has moral leadership and character and who actually believes in science and facts.”

With the election of vice president-elect Kamala Harris, “women writ large and women of colour can see themselves in the highest positions in the land, and did I mention Trump is leaving? That’s a big win. We can get the rest of it done.”

Senator Harris’ election “is a direct repudiation of this notion that women, women of colour and people of colour are limited in the scope of our ambitions and accomplishments.”

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