We knew she had to have been thinking about it, but all signs pointed to Stacey Abrams, the runner-up in Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial election, running for Senate in two years or taking another crack at the governor’s mansion in four. Surely, we thought, she was at least a step away from making a run at the White House. Indeed, she had already implied that 2028 would likely be her year.
But look out, 2020 field — she might be moving up the timeline. On Monday, she revealed, “Now 2020 is definitely on the table.” It is a table to be monitored. Were she to jump in, she would immediately become a “major planet” in my eyes. (And a much-needed one at that. She’d serve as a replacement for Sherrod Brown, who was the original eighth major planet for my Power Rankings until he announced he wasn’t running. I do like it when the candidates mirror the solar system.)
Her run to within a hair’s breath (and alleged election shenanigans) of becoming a Democrat to govern Georgia, of all places, is analogous to Beto O’Rourke’s quest to win a Senate seat out of Texas. Both campaigns gained widespread national attention — including millions of outside dollars from hopeful liberals across the country. Both campaigns turned their losers into bigger stars than their winners. And both campaigns positioned these losers as future national leaders of the party, as they showed how inspirational, liberal candidates could compete in conservative states. Therefore, just as O’Rourke is a high-upside 2020 candidate, so is Abrams. Abrams also brandishes the aesthetic strengths O’Rourke lacks; in a diverse, mostly female, and increasingly progressive party, Abrams better fits the role of Democratic nominee.
If she does enter the race, we would see considerable ripple effects beyond her own candidacy. Kamala Harris’s sluggish polling start might turn permanent, as she would lose the opportunity to unite progressive African-American women under her banner. Cory Booker, too, would find competition for southern black Democrats. Both Harris and Booker are counting on a strong South Carolina result — the last primary of February — to set up successful Super Tuesdays. Abrams’s presence from neighboring Georgia severely complicated that aspiration. (In fact, I’d tentatively pencil in Abrams as the favorite for the South Carolina Primary.) Elizabeth Warren, also a progressive woman, would be nearly as annoyed, as she, too, is finding herself drowned out by other candidates and needs less competition, not more.
Amy Klobuchar and Beto O’Rourke would break even. Klobuchar’s modest support among women could be dented, but her strength in the Midwest would be unaffected and in fact look stronger compared to a slightly more divided progressive and minority vote on the coasts and in the south. O’Rourke also appeals to a different geographic constituency which remains comparatively less divided, but both he and Abrams were products of 2018’s new millennial voters who will be divided over which to support.
Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, can just sit back and enjoy. For them, it’s been a great week. Each welcomed the news that Michael Bloomberg and Sherrod Brown wouldn’t compete with them for white moderate and working class voters, and now Stacey Abrams might jump in? As if their twin towering poll numbers didn’t already look dominant enough, a further divided field beneath them could only help their chances to be the final two.