Democrat Stacey Abrams launched a bid for Georgia governor on Wednesday, kicking off one of the most anticipated campaigns of the 2022 midterms.
Abrams is seeking a rematch with Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who narrowly defeated her in 2018 in an open-seat race. Her launch video does not mention Kemp by name.
Democrats in and out of Georgia have long anticipated Abrams' second run for the governor's mansion, and no other notable Democrat is expected to get into the race.
Kemp, however, faces a primary challenge after facing the wrath of former President Donald Trump, who became the first Republican presidential candidate to lose Georgia since then-President George H.W. Bush in 1992. Former Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) is considering primarying Kemp next spring.
Despite her loss in 2018, Abrams' national profile has only grown since then to become one of the most prominent Democrats in the nation. The work of her and her group, Fair Fight, was credited by Democrats with helping flip the state, both with President Joe Biden's narrow victory in 2020 and runoff wins by now-Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock earlier this year.
Georgia will again be one of the focal points for U.S. politics in 2022. Besides the gubernatorial race, Warnock is also seeking a full term in the Senate, and the state's secretary of state race is expected to attract a historic amount of attention.
Abrams' launch video casts her candidacy as one to lead a changing Georgia, calling for "leadership that understands the true pain folks are feeling, and has real plans." The video promotes her work since that 2018 election, with Abrams' saying she's paid off Georgians' medical debt and helped finance small businesses.
Kemp greeted his would-be rival into the race by saying she would merely use the office as a stepping stone. "Stacey's never-ending campaign for power has already hurt Georgia businesses and cost our state millions - all in service to her ultimate ambition of becoming president of the United States," he said in a statement. "Next November's election for governor is a battle for the soul of our state. I'm in the fight against Stacey Abrams, the failed Biden agenda, and their woke allies to keep Georgia the best place to live, work and raise a family."
But before the two face off next November, Kemp needs to win his primary. Trump has relentlessly attacked Kemp, furious that Kemp did not use his position as governor to help overturn the 2020 election results in the state. The former president has targeted Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for similar reasons.
However, Kemp has not yet attracted a challenger with enough firepower to draw Trump's endorsement. Former state Rep. Vernon Jones, a one-time Democratic lawmaker who switched parties and wholeheartedly embraced Trump's conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, is in the primary but has not won Trump's backing.
Instead, Trump's team has tried to court Perdue, who lost to Ossoff last year, into challenging Kemp.
"We have a divided party in Georgia right now," Perdue told a local radio station last month, obliquely attacking Kemp for "cav[ing] in to a lot of things back in 2020 that didn't have to be done."
"Bonnie and I are praying about our state. I'm concerned about the state of our state," he continued, not mentioning the sitting governor by name.
Raffensperger has a Trump-backed primary challenger already in the race in Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.).
Regardless of Trump's involvement in the primary, the Republican Governors Association has already said that it would stand behind Kemp. "We defeated her once (even though she failed to admit it) and we'll do it again," RGA executive director Dave Rexrode tweeted following Abrams' announcement. The RGA is "all-in to re-elect [Kemp] and keep GA heading in the right direction."
In 2018, Abrams said that she "acknowledge[d]" that Kemp was the governor, but said she was not giving "a speech of concession," alleging that Kemp - then the secretary of state - used his office to suppress votes, with Fair Fight filing an expansive lawsuit challenging much of the state's election procedures.
At the time, Kemp announced he was investigating the state Democratic Party for trying to hack the state voter registration system days before the election, charges which investigators said years later that there was no evidence to support.
That Fair Fight lawsuit could go to trial early next year, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, but a series of court rulings cut back the scope of the suit.
National Democrats also immediately backed Abrams' bid for a rematch with Kemp. "Abrams already came well within striking distance of Brian Kemp in 2018 - before she mobilized millions of Democrats to flip Georgia blue in 2020," Noam Lee, the executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, said in a statement. "Now more than ever, it's clear Brian Kemp's days as governor are numbered."