In their bid to win the Republican nomination in the Georgia gubernatorial race, incumbent Brian Kemp and challenger David Perdue are often at odds except when it comes to Stacey Abrams.
Rivals united this week to condemn Abrams, the leading Democratic gubernatorial candidate, for hypocrisy after a photo surfaced of her posing without a mask with students at an Atlanta-area elementary school. which she visited to mark Black History Month. Abrams’ campaign encouraged schools to require masks.
“Stacey Abrams wants state government mask mandates for Georgians and their children,” Kemp tweeted. “But it looks like they wouldn’t apply when she attends a photo shoot.” Perdue tweeted that “Liberals’ lust for power during this pandemic has done enormous damage to our children, while the elite like Stacey go on to live their lives.”
The response was a notable moment of alignment in a state where former President Donald Trump’s election lies have divided the GOP, fueling Perdue’s unusual challenge to an incumbent from his own party. But it’s a sign that both men see opposition to Abrams as a hot topic for the Republican base as Georgia’s May 24 primary approaches.
“David Perdue and Brian Kemp have to find a contrast with each other,” said Chip Lake, a Republican consultant from Georgia who does not work for either Kemp or Perdue. “But, at the same time, it never hurts either of them to draw a contrast to Stacey Abrams and remind the core of what’s at stake.”
The photo is an unnecessary development for Abrams, whose national stature has skyrocketed in recent years from state lawmaker to prominent suffrage activist and 2020 candidate to become Joe Biden’s running mate.
Trying to move past the controversy, her campaign said she wore a mask at school and only took it off to be better heard by pupils watching from a distance – and for photos provided everyone around from her keep theirs.
But in a Tuesday interview on CNN, Abrams said: “Protocols are important and protecting our children is the most important thing, and anything that can be perceived as undermining that is a mistake and I apologize. “
Abrams’ campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo said it was “shameful” to use a Black History Month event “for a bogus political attack.”
Still, in a sign of his national political profile, Republicans across the country have been piling up. House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted Abrams’ photo and wrote that “the same liberal politicians pushing arbitrary mandates blatantly ignore their own self-imposed rules.”
The Republican Governor’s Association – following its strong opposition to school masking rules helping lift Republican Glenn Youngkin to an upset victory in the race for governor of Virginia last fall – has shoved a digital ad built around the photo of Abrams. He also released a statement predicting that “Georgians will reject Stacey Abrams and her hypocritical mandates.”
Abrams’ allies warn the attacks are fraught with racism and sexism, as she is vying to be Georgia’s first black governor and the first black female governor in US history.
“She’s a woman, she’s black, and of course everyone dodges that, but a lot of that is,” said Democratic state Rep. Al Williams, who sits on the board of directors of the suffrage group Fair Fight founded by Abrams. “And then there are those who are really mad at the Lord, and they say, ‘Why wasn’t I born with a brain like that.'”
The attacks have made Abrams a Republican foil much like Hillary Clinton or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, where antagonism for someone from the other party helps the GOP base ignore cracks in its own ranks. .
“It’s a battle over participation,” said Andra Gillespie, professor of political science at Emory University in Atlanta. “So the idea that Republicans are trying to agitate their base by saying that Stacey Abrams is a hypocrite that shouldn’t be followed, what they’re hoping is that that mobilizes their base and that either discourages or demobilizes his base.”
Opposition to Abrams also allows Republicans to talk about more than Trump’s election lies, which have particular resonance in Georgia, where the former president spent his final days in office in an effort to pressure governments. responsible for reversing Biden’s victory.
Trump is backing Perdue, a former senator who lost his re-election bid last year because Kemp refused pleas to thwart Biden’s victory in Georgia, which was upheld by three recounts. He has stepped up his involvement in recent weeks, helping convince another Republican gubernatorial candidate, Vernon Jones, to drop his campaign to clear the ground for Perdue.
Perdue even turned Jones’ departure from the race into an attack on the race’s top Democrat, tweeting that “conservatives are united and ready to beat Stacey Abrams.”
But shared antagonism may not be enough to heal GOP divisions. Kemp and Perdue have long targeted Abrams for their own ends, with Kemp saying Republicans must unite behind him to repel Abrams’ threat since he narrowly beat her four years ago.
Perdue counters that some Republicans are still angry with Kemp for not doing enough to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election result — which the former senator says proves only he can muster enough support to overtake Abrams.
Kemp’s allies founded a group called Stop Stacey in January 2021 — more than 10 months before Abrams announced she was running for governor again. Perdue said, “I’m running for governor to make sure Stacey Abrams will never be governor,” at the very start of her announcement video in December.
Perdue released a campaign ad this week featuring a photo of an unmasked Abrams and declaring, “This is what Georgia Stacey Abrams wants,” but also adding, “This is the reality that Brian Kemp has allowed. Unmask our children.
Kemp, who had long allowed local districts to make decisions on class mask rules, fired back by suggesting he could now use the power of his office to try to end class mask mandates – further increasing reaction to Abrams’ photo.
“A small handful of school boards continue to ignore science and impose mask mandates on our children while leading Democrats refuse to follow mandates when visiting these same schools,” the governor tweeted. “Enough is enough.”
Weissert reported from Washington.