On Tuesday, Democrats announced that Stacey Abrams will deliver the rebuttal to President Trump’s State of the Union address next week. It’s a choice that highlights the party’s diversity and the important role African American women will play in the next election.
“Picking a black woman to deliver this speech is a powerful statement about where the Democratic Party is and where the nation is," Democratic strategist Karine Jean-Pierre told The Fix. Jean-Pierre called Abrams “an accomplished legislator and inspiring communicator who’s proven she knows how to move votes.”
“The contrast with Trump could not be more stark,” she said.
It also gives Abrams a national platform a week after she suggested she was being overlooked as a 2020 presidential contender.
Abrams’s 2018 bid to become the country’s first black female governor attracted lots of attention — Oprah Winfrey campaigned for her, and Google said she was the most searched political figure of 2018. Though she narrowly lost the race for Georgia governor, she won more votes than any Democrat who has run for statewide office, in part by building a powerful grass-roots get-out-the-vote operation.
In the days after the race ended, Abrams launched a listening tour across Georgia. She appeared on television and gave a TED Talk. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) tried to recruit her for a U.S. Senate run. But her name has been largely missing from the conversation about who the Democrats should nominate for president in 2020.
Abrams attributed that, at least in part, to her race and gender. “It is telling that that conversation [about Abrams as a presidential contender] isn’t happening as frequently," she told my colleague this month. "And that is to take nothing away from those whose names are being bandied about, but I worry, not just for myself, I worry about the person who comes next who is kept out of the conversation because of arbitrary filters about what viability looks like.”
CNN’s Nia-Malika Henderson noted as much, contrasting the relative lack of attention Abrams received with former congressman Beto O’Rourke, who narrowly lost his bid to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) last year.
Though O’Rourke has not said what he’ll do next — fans can follow him on social media as he travels the country’s highways and gets his teeth cleaned — supporters have launched a “Draft Beto” operation to lay groundwork for his presidential run, particularly in early primary states. The organization has attracted some top-flight political talent, endorsements from the likes of former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley and some early fundraising success.
There is no similar apparatus-in-waiting for Abrams.
“O’Rourke, tall, handsome, white and male, has this latitude, to be and do anything. His privilege even allows him to turn a loss to the most despised candidate of the cycle into a launchpad for a White House run,” Henderson wrote. “Stacey Abrams, a Yale-trained lawyer, couldn’t do this."
There are signs, though, that things are changing. There has been sizable interest in the candidacy of Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), the first black woman to have a real shot at the Oval Office, according to analysts. Abrams’s selection to speak next week is another sign that Democratic leaders are taking black women seriously as voters and candidates.