Can Stacey Abrams pull off a come from behind win? It’s unlikely, but possible

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is in good position to earn re-election as the November Midterm approaches.

The race, once expected to be a battle ground between an incumbent Republican and a high-profile Democrat, Stacey Abrams, who has shown particular prowess in turning out the vote, now shows Kemp with a commanding lead, though not quite insurmountable. 

Kemp leads Abrams 6.6 points, according to the most recent aggregate of polls on FiveThirtyEight. Cook Political Report puts the race in the “Lean R” category, meaning Kemp has an edge, but Abrams has a chance. 

The trends may surprise some. As early as early 2021, Abrams was a political star on the rise. Abrams came within 55,000 votes of Kemp in 2018, a performance that wasn’t necessarily close under broad standards, but that was considered a strong-showing in red Georgia. Then in 2020 and into early 2021, she led get-out-the-vote efforts in the Peach State, particularly among Black voters, which were widely attributed to Joe Biden’s historic victory in the state and the election of two Democrats to the U.S. Senate that gave Democrats an unlikely tie, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote. 

So what happened?

The short answer is, a lot. And not all of it falls on Abrams’ campaign performance. 

When she ran four years ago, she had several advantages that made her campaign noteworthy and attracted attention that helped turn-out votes. For starters, she was running in a Midterm Election at a time when a Republican occupied the White House and controlled the Senate, trends that historically favor candidates in the party out of power. And it wasn’t just any Republican in the White House, it was Donald Trump, a divisive political character who attracted a thirst for change in Washington.

Abrams also faced an open race, while this year she faces an incumbent who has established a fairly agreeable track record and who showed strength in the face of political headwinds in 2020 as Trump and his backers demanded that Biden’s victory in Georgia was illegitimate, a claim Kemp steered clear of. 

Likewise, Americans, and Georgians notwithstanding, are simply more concerned with issues Republicans tend to dominate — the economy and inflation. Democrats, including Abrams, have staked a lot of political capital this election on abortion, hoping that the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade would motivate Democrats, independents and even some Republicans to support pro-choice candidates. There was a brief moment what that strategy was working, but outrage over abortion access succumbed to the inevitable forces of the purse as people face high gas prices, soaring inflation and increased costs on everything from groceries to clothing.

And then there are the things Abrams can control, at least to a degree. So far this cycle, she has failed to attract the level of support among Black male voters needed to carry her to victory. A Bloomberg analysis found that a third of Black men registered to vote in Georgia haven’t voted in the past several elections, often because they don’t think the outcome will improve their lives. Further, the analysis found that about one in five Black men voted for Trump in 2020, more than in 2016. Yet Abrams has largely failed to identify reasons these voters are left behind and attract their votes.

It would be hard to blame current polling trends on Abrams’ performance on the trail. Rather, she may be falling victim to inevitable travails in a Midterm Election with an unpopular Democratic President. 

And, as they say, it’s not over. 

Voter turnout in Georgia is expected to exceed the 2018 Midterm, even approaching presidential election year levels. 

By Nov. 1, nearly 48% of ballots returned had come from Democrats, 45% from Republicans and just over 7% from non-partisan voters. Early voting by that point favored women, with more than 55% of ballots cast compared to just shy of 45% from men. 

Black voters are also turning out early, with nearly 33% of all ballots cast as of the end of October, according to the L2 data. That’s compared to nearly 56% of ballots returned from White voters.

There are some takeaways in this data. First, it a glimmer of hope for Democrats. Not only had more Democratic voters already cast a ballot this election, women and African American voters were also showing strong turnout, both demographics that tend to favor Democrats. Women being an especially crucial voting bloc this election as liberal candidates campaign on protections for abortion access. 

Republicans are expected to end those trends on Nov. 8 as conservatives increasingly favor Election Day voting amid scrutiny over election security. The data is also independent any trends that don’t align with party affiliation, voting bloc trends or the impact of independent voters.

Still, if Election Day turnout doesn’t negate early voting trends, Abrams could perform better than some expect. Nevertheless, an Abrams victory, at this point, would be widely viewed as a political upset.

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