ATLANTA (AP) — Former President Barack Obama urged Georgia voters on Friday to elect Stacey Abrams governor as a way to counter divisiveness and help keep Republicans from dismantling much of his legacy.
Speaking before a raucous crowd at historically Black Morehouse College in Atlanta, Obama never mentioned President Donald Trump or Abrams’ Republican opponent Brian Kemp by name. But Obama framed Georgia’s nationally watched matchup within a larger fight he said goes beyond partisanship.
“On Tuesday, you can vote for a politics that is decent, for a politics that is honest, for a politics that is lawful, for a politics that tries to do right by people,” Obama said after a lengthy condemnation of the all-GOP government that has run Washington since Obama left office last January.
“Make history here in Georgia. Make things better here in Georgia,” the nation’s first Black president said of Abrams’ bid to become the first Black female governor in American history.
Polls show Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp in a tight race that has drawn national attention, even coaxing media icon Oprah Winfrey to Abrams’ side Thursday — the kind of political move the billionaire businesswoman had largely avoided since her open support of Obama in 2008.
Obama twice lost Georgia by single-digit margins, but population growth among nonwhites and some discontent with Trump in the GOP-leaning, whiter suburbs of Atlanta leave Abrams’ backers cautiously optimistic she can pull an upset in a state that hasn’t elevated a Democrat to the governor’s office since 1998.
Kemp has embraced Trump’s nationalistic tone as he tries to extend the GOP dominance. Trump will travel Sunday to Georgia, appearing with Kemp as part of the president’s final multistate tour ahead of the midterms.
Abrams is running as an unapologetic liberal, marked by her pledge to reverse Georgia Republicans’ refusal to expand Medicaid insurance under Obama’s 2010 health care law.
Obama noted as much in his 45-minute speech at Morehouse. He chided Republicans, including Kemp, for opposing the Affordable Care Act and only recently turning to ads that tell voters GOP candidates will protect insurance access for Americans with once-disqualifying health conditions.
“I want everybody to pay attention to this: They have literally been doing the opposite of what they are saying,” Obama said, noting scores of GOP votes to repeal the law. “We can also call it what it is: It’s a lie.”
The former president said the Republican campaign tactic on pre-existing conditions is just one component of “an old playbook” to divide voters and distract from an agenda he said hurts the middle-class for the benefit of billionaires.
He mocked Trump’s assertion that a migrant caravan coming north from Central America is fundamental threat. As he blasted Trump’s decision to send troops to the Southern border, Obama failed to note that he and President George W. Bush also dispatched military personnel to the border, even if not immediately prior to an election.
Besides Abrams, Obama recognized two other Democrats looking for upsets in congressional districts that span the northern Atlanta suburbs.
Lucy McBath is trying to unseat Rep. Karen Handel, who won a special election last year over Jon Ossoff in a race that became the most expensive House contest ever. Carolyn Bourdeaux is running against Rep. Rob Woodall, who’s not faced a serious challenge since winning the seat during the 2010 midterms that were disastrous for Obama.
The districts aren’t considered top tier pickup opportunities as Democrats try to gain the 23 seats they need for a majority, so a victory by either McBath or Bourdeaux likely would signify a big night nationally for Democrats.
Atlanta was part of a two-stop day for Obama on behalf of potentially history-making candidates. He was in Florida earlier for Andrew Gillum, who would be his state’s first Black governor.