WASHINGTON — Stacey Abrams, the rising political star who marshaled the power of black female voters but narrowly lost the Georgia governor’s race, will deliver the Democratic response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters Tuesday that he asked Abrams three weeks ago to take on the role and “was very delighted when she agreed.” Abrams narrowly lost the 2018 race against Republican Brian Kemp after a protracted challenge over blocked votes. Senate Democrats have been urging her to mount a 2020 challenge to Republican Sen. David Perdue, who has emerged as one of Trump’s most outspoken allies on Capitol Hill.
“She is just a great spokesperson. She is an incredible leader. She has led the charge for voting rights, which is at the root of just about everything else,” Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters. “She knows what working people, the middle class, go through.”
The role elevates Abrams in a party that’s looking to keep core supporters, such as black women who anchor the Democratic base, energized ahead of the 2020 congressional and presidential elections.
Abrams’ travel and meeting schedule in recent weeks tells the story of how hotly Democrats have pursued her as their top choice to challenge Perdue: She’s been inundated with calls from Democratic Party leaders, including Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House campaign chief Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto. Abrams also met privately with presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Democratic House members from her state.
Party officials see an Abrams candidacy as a promising scenario all around in 2020. Enthusiasm around her Senate run could drive up turnout that would also benefit a Democratic presidential candidate in the state, while the money that a White House campaign would bring to Georgia would help Abrams.
For her part, Abrams has started a voting rights advocacy group but is also considering her own political future and looking to help other Democrats. She is expected to make a decision about the Senate race in coming months.
The State of the Union response often serves as an audition of sorts for ambitious political figures looking to raise their profile. But it’s also frequently a thankless task, with brutal reviews. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s lunge for a water bottle became a meme after his response in 2013. Then-Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was panned for being dull in 2009. In 1996, then-presidential candidate Bob Dole gave a less-than-boffo performance and was widely criticized for his delivery and the lighting.
But for Abrams, the response is not an audition. She’s well-known in the U.S. for nearly winning the governor’s race and disputing the vote.
A group backed by Abrams filed a federal lawsuit this month saying Georgia deprived many low-income people and minorities of their voting rights with Kemp, then secretary of state, overseeing the 2018 election. After a long dispute, Kemp won the governorship.
Associated Press Washington Bureau Chief Julie Pace, writers Bill Barrow and Errin Haines Whack and researcher Jennifer Farrar contributed to this report.