Stacey Abrams to give Democratic response to State of the Union

By Ed O'Keefe, Grace Segers

/ CBS News

Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate who narrowly lost the race for Georgia governor in 2018, will deliver the Democrats' rebuttal to President Trump's State of the Union address on Feb. 5, according to two sources familiar with the decision.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters on Tuesday that he had asked Abrams to deliver the rebuttal three weeks ago. Party officials familiar with the plans say that Abrams will make the address Tuesday night from her hometown of Atlanta.

"She is just a great spokesperson. She's an incredible leader. She has led the charge for voting rights which is at the root of just about everything else," Schumer said. "And she really has, if you look at her background, she knows what middle class people, working class people go through."

Abrams wrote on Twitter Tuesday afternoon: "At a moment when our nation needs to hear from leaders who can unite for a common purpose, I am honored to be delivering the Democratic State of the Union response."

Abrams, the former minority leader of the Georgia state House of Representatives, was defeated by Republican Brian Kemp in November, after prevailing in a close primary in part because she opted to focus on drawing out like-minded liberal voters instead of attempting to broaden her appeal to swing voters. The strategy was an outgrowth of her work with the New Georgia Project, an officially nonpartisan organization she helped establish that registered tens of thousands of mostly minority voters across the state beginning during the 2014 election cycle.

She initially did not concede the race to Kemp, due to concerns over voting irregularities, but acknowledged that Kemp had won later in the month.

"This speech is not a concession, because concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true, or proper," Abrams said at the time, but she added that the "law offers no possible remedy." "I don't want to hold public office if I need to scheme my way into the post," Abrams added, on why she would not bring forward a legal challenge.

If she had won, Abrams would have been the first black female governor in the country. She remains a popular politician among Democrats, and a leader on the grassroots left. In late November, the Abrams-backed group Fair Fight Action filed a federal lawsuit challenging the way Georgia's elections are run.

Since losing her gubernatorial bid, Abrams has said she is open to running for political office again. In recent days, she was spotted in Washington lunching with California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, and met with other party leaders about a potential 2020 U.S. Senate bid against GOP Sen. David Perdue, of Georgia, one of President Trump's closest allies on Capitol Hill.

The response is a tradition undertaken by a representative of the president's opposing party, who gives a speech immediately after the State of the Union to rebut claims made in his address. The first rebuttal was delivered by Republican Sen. Everett Dirksen and Rep. Gerald Ford in response to President Lyndon B. Johnson's 1966 State of the Union. Since 2011, there have been responses in English and one in Spanish given by a separate speaker.

The address has usually been given by a member of Congress or a sitting governor, making Abrams an intriguing choice given that she doesn't currently hold a political office. Only one other time has an elected official not holding statewide or federal office given their party's response: Elizabeth Guzman, a Democratic member of the Virginia House of Delegates, delivered the Spanish-language response for Democrats in 2018.

First published on January 29, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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