Georgia’s gubernatorial race may be the purest example of politics in the Trump era

Stacey Abrams is the Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia. (Erik S Lesser/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Stacey Abrams isn’t yet a nationally known politician, but one sign that she could become one is her picture appearing on the cover of Time magazine’s latest issue.

The Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia is the central character in one of the most intriguing political campaigns of 2018, as she bids to become the nation’s first female African American governor.

The Time cover is indicative of the interest in the Georgia race. Few gubernatorial contests will attract as much attention or produce as much speculation. Much will depend on Abrams’s skills as a candidate and on the skills of her Republican opponent, Brian Kemp, who, with an endorsement from President Trump, won a decisive victory in Tuesday’s GOP runoff.

But just as much or more could depend on whether Georgia turns out to be the new Virginia or next Alabama, or instead becomes the latest example of Democrats’ hopes being dashed in a politically changing state. Which is to say: Can Abrams and the Democrats alter the electorate in November and thereby accelerate the changes already underway, or will the current structural advantages enjoyed by Republicans prove strong enough to block her path?

Abrams is a liberal Democrat, who as a result of her convincing victory in the primary has quickly become the darling of the party’s base nationally. First elected to the legislature in 2006, she rose to become Democratic leader in the state House at a time when Republicans were in control.

Republicans already have signaled how they intend to run against Abrams. The Republican Governors Association released its first ad several days ago. The ad describes her as “the most radical liberal ever to run for governor,” someone who is “funded by [House Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi’s friends” and “loved by” 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. The ad says Abrams wants to raise taxes to support a big government agenda.

Brian Kemp is the Republican nominee for governor in Georgia. (John Amis/AP)

Kemp is the Georgia secretary of state, a former state senator and a small-business owner. Unlike the current and previous Republican governors, both of whom began their careers as Democrats, he has been a Republican throughout his career in elective office.

He was the underdog in the Republican primary, coming in second in the first round of voting to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. But with provocative television ads and the late support from Trump, he ran away with the runoff, winning with about 69 percent of the vote. Although some strategists believe Kemp was already moving ahead of Cagle before Trump’s endorsement, the president’s support ended up turning the runoff into a cakewalk.

Kemp’s ads featured the candidate with a shotgun on his lap interviewing an actor portraying a young man who wanted to date the candidate’s daughter (and being forced to swear fealty to the Second Amendment). Another showed Kemp revving up a chain saw to “rip up some regulations” and in a pickup truck talking about rounding up “criminal illegals.” Like the president, he ran proudly and overtly as a blunt, politically incorrect candidate.

National Democrats are as enthusiastic about casting Kemp as a social and cultural warrior as Republicans are about casting…

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