By BILL BARROW and JEFF AMY – Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) — Four years ago, Democrats in Georgia had a contested primary for governor because the party’s old guard didn’t believe in Stacey Abrams. She routed their alternative and, in a narrow electoral defeat, established herself as the de facto party leader in a new battleground state.

It foreshadowed 2020, when Joe Biden put Georgia in the Democratic presidential column for the first time in 28 years, and Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff captured Senate seats soon after to give Democrats control over Capitol Hill. .

Now Abrams and Warnock lead the Democratic ticket together for the first time as the party attempts to replicate its success in a difficult midterm election landscape. The result will again help determine the balance of power in Washington and whether Republicans retain their dominance in state government.

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“Georgia is a blue state,” party chair Nikema Williams said at the state convention in Columbus on Saturday. “Together, we will continue to defy the odds, grow bluer with each cycle, and drive our state to greater heights.”

Still, Williams and others recognize that 2022 is not a simple replay of the last two cycles.

Abrams, in her governor’s rematch with Brian Kemp, is not running against a little-known Republican secretary of state, but rather a well-placed incumbent.

Warnock, no longer a political newcomer, is trying to distinguish himself from a relatively unpopular president who campaigned for him. It’s a point that challenger Herschel Walker relentlessly seeks to make as he criticizes Warnock as a rubber stamp for the White House.

The rest of the Democratic ticket must run under the banner of a national party that controls Washington at a time of sustained inflation and an uncertain economy. And Democrats must revamp their voter turnout operation to comply with tougher voting restrictions that Kemp and the Republican-led Legislature enacted after Democratic victories in 2020.

The answer, Democrats say, is not to run away from their record but to embrace it, while painting Republicans as an ‘extremist’ party that pushes a quirky cultural agenda and remains in thrall to the former president. Donald Trump.

“Trump’s party is a party of extremism, a party of Holocaust deniers, a party of authoritarianism, which says their opinions on who should win the election matter more than the voters,” said Charlie Bailey, the presidential candidate. of Lieutenant Governor. His GOP opponent, Burt Jones, is among the bogus voters who signed certificates falsely stating that Trump, not Biden, had won their states.

This approach aligns with the national address Biden delivered Thursday at a campaign rally in Maryland, where he defined voters’ choice in November as being between Democrats and Trump’s “MAGA movement,” a strain mainstream of the GOP which Biden says sounds like “semi-fascism.”

Kemp and Georgian Secretary of State Republican Brad Raffensperger have won applause from moderate voters for resisting Trump’s bid to void the 2020 election. But Abrams and others are challenging the “moderate” label for one or the other man.

Abrams criticizes Kemp as an ‘extremist’ who signed a concealed carry law to ease restrictions on guns and a near-total abortion ban that bars the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy, before many women don’t know they are pregnant.

Bee Nguyen, a lawmaker challenging Raffensperger, is hammering the secretary of state for his role in overhauling state voting procedures. Nguyen notes that Raffensperger, as a state legislator, has compiled a staunchly conservative record on abortion and guns, among other things. “He is not a friend of democracy. Nor is he a friend of women,” she said recently on the liberal Pod Save America podcast.

Georgia Democrats say the Supreme Court’s decision eliminating a constitutional right to access abortion, combined with Georgia’s near-ban, is an issue critical enough to overcome swing voters’ worries about the economy .

“I will tell you that people are much more concerned about protecting their rights and their access to health care than anything else,” said attorney general candidate Jen Jordan, a state senator who has made his support for the right to abortion a centerpiece of his candidacy. .

Kemp accuses Abrams of being a liberal who wants to “defund the police”. Abrams counters with proposals that would raise the salaries of many law enforcement and criminal justice personnel. “Brian Kemp wants you to be scared of me,” she says in one of her commercials.

Jordan is outspoken about rising crime, but dismisses Republicans’ efforts to frame it as “an Atlanta problem” — the GOP’s framing aimed at white voters beyond the demographically diverse and heavily Democratic city.

“It’s not an urban problem or a suburban problem. It’s a Georgian problem, and the people who have been in charge have a lot to answer for,” Jordan said.

During the Senate campaign, Warnock has largely avoided Biden, even as he embraces the Democrats’ legislative victories. Warnock cites a pandemic relief bill and its child tax credit as essential help for Georgian families. He notes the benefits of a long-sought infrastructure package.

The senator acknowledges that gasoline prices and general inflation have skyrocketed, but notes that he called for the suspension of the federal gasoline tax, then secured passage of a provision of the Democrats’ big climate and health care bill that caps the price of insulin for Medicare patients. . Republicans blocked his efforts to extend the cap to all consumers.

“Today we stand together on top of this mountain,” Warnock told Democratic delegates at their convention. “Tomorrow we will go down the valley until we cap the cost of insulin for everyone, until we reduce the cost for all Georgians.”

In 2018, Kemp overtook Abrams by 55,000 votes out of approximately 4 million votes. Biden edged out Trump by less than 12,000 out of 5 million votes. In the concurrent Senate runoff two months later, approximately 4.5 million Georgians voted; Warnock and Ossoff gained 2 percentage points and 1.2 percentage points respectively.

Democrats hope November’s electorate is at least as large as Jan. 5, 2021’s. Georgia needs a majority vote to win statewide office, and libertarian candidates can make enough of that. to force a second round.

With that in mind, Abrams, a black woman from Atlanta, has spent considerable time in rural, mostly white Georgia, where she lost ground in 2018 to Democrats’ performances in previous semesters. Jordan, who is white, notes that she grew up in a small town in southern Georgia but now represents a suburban Atlanta state Senate district that had been a Republican lock. Abrams sometimes campaigned alongside Bailey, a white man with a heavy Southern accent and small-town Georgian roots.

“We have a ticket that looks like Georgia,” Abrams often says.

Al Williams, a black state lawmaker close to Abrams, said that in a time of few split-ticket voters, Abrams must win for Democrats to have a big day in November.

“Stacey is the wind under sail,” he said.

Follow AP for full midterm election coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections and on Twitter, https://twitter.com/ap_politics.

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