The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

GOP rivals seize on Stacey Abrams’s maskless classroom photo as her campaign calls criticism ‘silly’

Stacey Abrams speaks during a church service in Norfolk last year. (Steve Helber/AP)

A photo from a reading event celebrating Black History Month in an Atlanta-area school has sparked an intense back-and-forth among the leading candidates in Georgia’s gubernatorial election, underscoring the potent political force of classroom coronavirus policies in that high-profile race.

The dust-up began when Democrat Stacey Abrams retweeted photos of herself at an elementary school in Decatur, where she made an appearance Friday. Abrams, who deleted the post, was pictured without a mask, surrounded by students and staffers who were wearing face coverings. The Abrams campaign has said she wore a mask to the school event and removed it only to take photos and speak with students watching remotely.

Nevertheless, her Republican opponents and conservative commentators seized on the image, pointing out what they characterized as the hypocrisy of a candidate being photographed without a mask despite supporting them in schools.

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“Stacey Abrams wants state government mask mandates for Georgians and their children,” Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican running for reelection, said on Twitter. “But it looks like they wouldn’t apply when she’s attending a photo op.”

Kemp, who last week toured a school in the Atlanta area without a mask, according to a Fox affiliate, has opposed mandates for schools and has clashed with local governments over their ability to require face coverings.

Former U.S. senator David Perdue, who is challenging Kemp in the Republican primary, jumped at the opportunity to take shots at both of his main opponents.

“Liberals’ thirst for power during this pandemic has caused enormous damage to our kids, while the elite like Stacey continue living their lives,” Perdue tweeted. “What is even worse is that this is a classroom in Brian Kemp’s GA, not NY or CA.”

This line of criticism echoes GOP election tactics across the country, as candidates have sought to capitalize on a tumultuous time for schools — which have been thrust to the center of some of the country’s most visceral culture wars, from mask policies and vaccine mandates to the way racism and American history are taught.

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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Kemp intends to use one of the photos of a maskless Abrams in upcoming TV ads.

Abrams’s campaign responded Sunday, saying it was “shameful that our opponents are using a Black History Month reading event for Georgia children as the impetus for a false political attack.” The statement, from Abrams’s campaign manager, Lauren Groh-Wargo, said the comments from Kemp and Perdue were “pitiful and predictable.”

“This pathetic, transparent and silly attack is beneath anyone who claims he wants to lead Georgia,” the statement said.

In a tweet, Groh-Wargo said Abrams “trusts science and supports masking in schools as it’s the current CDC recommendation.”

The Abrams campaign has said Kemp and Perdue are seeking to distract from their own records of combating the coronavirus. Kemp, who early in the pandemic was among the last governors to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, was also among the first to begin reopening, drawing criticism from local leaders, health experts and then-President Donald Trump.

Georgia, home to some of the deadliest virus hot spots in the pandemic’s first months, has recorded more than 33,000 covid-19 deaths, according to Washington Post tracking, the 16th most of any state when adjusted for population.

Read more:

Democrat Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost to Gov. Brian Kemp, announces bid for Georgia governor in a potential rematch

Airing 2020 election grievances, Trump appears in first TV ad for Georgia gubernatorial hopeful David Perdue

Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker promoted a ‘mist’ that he claimed would ‘kill any covid on your body’

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