Stacey Abrams has been everywhere on TV and at events for major Democratic groups (Emily’s List, the National Action Network), ostensibly plugging her book but also reminding Democrats that one of the best communicators and most dynamic politicians isn’t (yet) in the presidential race.
She’s said she’ll first decide if she wants to run for Senate in 2020 against the undistinguished Trump cheerleader Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.). If she decides not to run in that contest, she thinks she has until the fall to decide whether to enter the presidential race.
Free advice is what you pay for it, but here goes.
Does she really want to be in the Senate, possibly in the minority party, where gridlock and inaction are practically guaranteed? Even if Democrats win the majority, Republicans almost certainly will still have enough votes to stage a filibuster. Moreover, one is compelled to sit there hour after hour, day after day while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and other windbags try to impress us with their smarts. Sure, senators get to travel to some interesting places and maybe grill a recalcitrant witness or two, but if you are someone who likes to take charge and accomplish things, the Senate is not your ideal workplace.
Moreover, with the exception of President Barack Obama, the Senate has not exactly been a springboard to the presidency. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) lost in 2008, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in 2016. This time around, with the exception of Sanders, none of the senators is in double digits in early polling.
As for another run at the governorship, Abrams has plenty of time before 2022 to decide to run. Having come within a hair’s breadth of winning in 2018 despite voter-suppression techniques deployed by her opponent (who also acted as secretary of state during the campaign), she certainly would be a strong candidate.
That leaves the presidency. The Democratic field really isn’t 19 candidates strong; the majority of the announced candidates remain unknown. If you didn’t follow the race for several months, you’d likely return to a much smaller field, having saved yourself the trouble of figuring out who Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang are.
In making her calculation, Abrams can focus on the five to seven of them who have raised real money or gotten above a couple of points in the polls.
Could she win? Sure. Neither Biden nor Bernie can afford to lose in Iowa and New Hampshire. If they do, the aura of front-runner is gone, and they become old guys in a scrum against an array of candidates — a loquacious former congressman, a Midwest mayor and a bunch of senators. Could she beat all of those? Surely, her chances would be at least 50-50, right?
Consider if she does wait until late summer or early fall, after some lesser-known candidates fall by the wayside. At a time when no candidate has really captured the primary voters’ imagination, she enters a debate in the fall and pretty much steals the show. With a late entry, she wouldn’t have to commit to winning Iowa and New Hampshire (but could proclaim she has won a moral victory if she beats candidates who’ve by that point been campaigning a year). She makes South Carolina, her neighboring state, the place to make her stand. Especially if no single candidate has won all the previous contests, she would stand an excellent chance of captivating a strong coalition of African Americans, rural whites and young voters — just as she did in Georgia. If she wins South Carolina, she might well clean up on Super Tuesday.
That’s a lot of “ifs,” but every candidate has the same sort of scenarios, in which things must fall just right, that are essential to their winning (e.g., Biden doesn’t win early, Sanders doesn’t expand beyond his base). She has as good a chance as many in the race, and better than most of them.
What does she run on? She can keep it simple and effective by talking about what she already knows as well as, if not better than, most contenders: breaking the system of voting suppression; addressing health care; and attending to the needs of rural Americans, who are falling further and further behind urban centers on every measure from life expectancy to income. She will come across as a fresher voice (after others have been repeating their stump speeches for nearly a year).
If the economy hits a nose-dive, her message of economic plunder and ruin on Republicans’ watch (i.e., the Obama 2008 theme) writes itself.
In sum, it’s not crazy to think she could thread the needle. Provided she doesn’t acquit herself poorly (I find that nearly impossible to imagine), she’s going to be on the shortlist of most candidates for vice president even if she doesn’t win the top spot.
Put differently, why not run for president? No one is better able to make voter suppression/democratic reform a national issue, and she has a credible path to the nomination.
What should she do in the meantime? Keep doing what she’s doing: using free media to introduce herself to voters, pushing for legislative and court wins through her Fair Fight Action organization and — here’s a critical one — spending as much time as possible reading up and getting tutored on foreign policy. Aside from Biden, other candidates seem unwilling to do so. Before she gets in the race would be a perfect time for her to round out her knowledge (does anyone doubt she is a quick study?) so she can hit the ground running.
Then again, she might want to go to the Senate and listen to Cruz drone on for years. Hey, it’s her choice.