Who is Stacey Abrams?

By Grace Segers

/ CBS News

Who is Stacey Abrams?

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. The response is traditionally delivered by member of Congress or a sitting governor, making Abrams an intriguing choice given that she doesn't currently hold a political office. However, as a progressive black woman who was defeated by one of Mr. Trump's endorsed candidates, party leaders may be hoping that she can deliver a speech which demonstrates the stark differences between Republicans and Democrats.

Biography

Abrams, who is one of six siblings, was born in 1973 in Wisconsin, although her family moved to Atlanta, Georgia, during her childhood. Both of her parents later became Methodist ministers. Abrams graduated from Spelman College, a historically black liberal arts college for women in Atlanta, and studied public policy at the University of Texas at Austin as a Harry S. Truman Scholar. Abrams received her law degree from Yale Law School in 1999.

While serving as a private tax attorney, Abrams was appointed the Deputy City Attorney for Atlanta at age 29. She was elected to the Georgia General Assembly in 2006, and became the first black woman to serve as minority leader in 2011. She became known for her ability to work across the aisle, and worked with GOP Gov. Nathan Deal on criminal justice reforms, public transportation packages and a scholarship for low-income Georgia students.

Gubernatorial race

In 2018, Abrams ran for governor of Georgia. She prevailed in a primary against Stacey Evans 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.

Abrams was defeated by Republican Brian Kemp in November. 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. 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.

Senate race in 2020?

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 Mr. Trump's closest allies on Capitol Hill.

Romance novelist

Abrams has also published several romance novels under the pen name Serena Montgomery.

Controversy during gubernatorial campaign

There were several voting irregularities during the campaign, and Abrams accused Kemp, who oversaw Georgia's election system as secretary of state, of dropping more than a million voters from the rolls since 2012 and closing polling places in African-American communities.

"He is someone who is tilting the playing field in his direction and in the direction of his party," Abrams told CBS News' Nancy Cordes in October. "It is absolutely voter suppression."
The biggest controversy surrounded the new "exact match" law that put the registrations of 53,000 voters, most of them African Americans, on hold because of discrepancies in the way their names are spelled in state databases.

Kemp's office suspended processing the registrations under the auspices of a 2017 state law passed under his urging, which requires an "exact match" between a voter registration form and government documents. If a person's voter registration form differs from government documents — even by a hyphen or a misspelling — their registration form is considered suspect. However, the voters with pending applications could still vote on election day, if they presented photo identification at the polls.

Kemp promoted several measures during his tenure as secretary of state which Democrats claim are intended to suppress minority votes. Abrams called on him to step down several times, given that Kemp oversees the state's electoral system. Kemp's office has canceled over 1.4 million voter registrations since 2012, including over 600,000 since 2017 alone, according to the Associated Press.

Kemp was the only secretary of state in the country to refuse the Department of Homeland Security's aid against electoral hacking before the 2016 election, and he is being sued for failing to secure the state's voting system and allowing a massive breach into the records of 6 million voters. He and Gwinnett County are also being sued due to the Georgia county's rejection of 595 absentee ballots this year, over half of which belonged to African Americans and Asian Americans.

First published on February 5, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Grace Segers

Grace Segers is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.

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