Type to search

Columns Tom Baxter

Not that they’d like the comparison, but Newt and Stacey have a lot in common

By Tom Baxter
When you think about who in recent Georgia political history Stacey Abrams can be compared to, one unexpected name rises like a giant balloon above the rest.
Like Abrams, Newt Gingrich was the upstart leader of a movement bent on toppling the state’s political establishment. Like her, Gingrich gained national prominence before he secured much of a foothold in his home state.
While Gingrich was advancing steadily toward his goal of becoming Speaker of the House, he was winning races in his district by hair-thin margins. Abrams, whose highest elected office in Georgia was a state House seat, campaigned in Virginia last week as a headliner for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe.
Both have carefully cultivated their reputations as brainiacs, writing romance novels and historical fiction in their spare time and are able to bring a broad range of interests to bear in their discussion of political issues.
Here’s another similarity to set beside their obvious differences. Gingrich got under his opponents’ skin so much they wasted an enormous amount of energy taking wild swings at him. Last week, at the closest thing to a togetherness moment we’ve had around here in a while, Gov. Brian Kemp took a swipe at Abrams on Twitter, accusing her along with Major League Baseball of robbing Atlanta of this year’s All-Star Game.
Abrams actually pleaded with the league not to move the game in reprisal for the passage of this year’s voting law. More important from a message perspective, who cares about the All-Star Game when the Braves have just won the pennant? The crowning irony of this attempt to cast the Braves’ triumph as some kind of own-the-libs vindication for the All-Star Game is that it was made possible by Eddie Rosario, a Puerto Rican who needs an interpreter to do a television interview.
Gingrich’s decline as a political force began not long after he achieved the goal he’d based his career on, ending with his resignation from Congress in 1998. His Georgia residency, always tenuous, didn’t last much longer than that. We can’t say whether Abrams’ career will follow a similar arc because she hasn’t achieved her goal, and, in fact, hasn’t made it clear if she has the same goal she had three years ago. While Republicans have flailed at her as Kemp’s assumed 2020 opponent, Abrams has kept a busy schedule with a national orientation. She has to show her hand at some point, but she knows she doesn’t have to yet.
Abrams could not have known when she refused to concede the governor’s race three years ago that former President Donald Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the  2020 presidential election in a different light, but it’s something she can expect to be asked to account for, if and when she gets in next year’s race.
Nor could she have dreamed that Trump would declare at a rally in Georgia that her refusal to concede was “okay,” and it would be “okay” also if Abrams replaced Kemp. Why should Abrams be in any hurry to the race when she won’t be getting the same kind of encouragement from Trump when she does?
The new demographic information released for the upcoming redistricting suggests that next year’s election could be even closer than Kemp’s 59,000-vote victory in 2018. What if Abrams has a similarly narrow winning margin next year and Kemp refuses to concede? What if Brad Raffensperger is a lame duck and the incoming Secretary of State has a different idea about the way the election was conducted?
After last year, this no longer seems like such far-fetched speculation. It’s a troubling possibility, and it deserves to be aired in both the governor and secretary of state races. All the candidates should asked be under what circumstances they will accept the election results.
There we go again assuming Abrams will be the Democratic nominee for governor next year. In all likelihood, though, she will. This would be a great time for Georgia Democrats to be thinking about what to do if she isn’t, though. The new population numbers and their victories in the two U.S. Senate rest give the Democrats hope that they can continue to win statewide majorities, but those majorities aren’t going to be easy to assemble.
Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.


You Might also Like

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.