It’s no secret that Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer really wants Stacey Abrams to run against Republican incumbent David Perdue in Georgia’s 2020 Senate race. He has already met with her three times this year to urge her in that direction. It’s a critical challenge finding a Democrat for that race; the Cook Political Report currently rates 13 of the 22 Republican seats up next year as all but invulnerable, and at least one Democratic incumbent, Doug Jones of Alabama, is not generally considered a good bet for reelection (and if West Virginia’s Joe Manchin decides to run for governor in 2020, that could be two Democratic seats in deep peril). With Democrats already down three seats in the Senate, there’s a high risk that even if they eject Donald Trump from office, a new president would find Mitch McConnell sitting athwart her or his agenda like an evil toad.
Without question, Abrams makes sense as a 2020 Senate candidate. In 2018 she did better than any Georgia Democratic gubernatorial or Senate candidate since 1998. In a presidential year where youth and minority turnout should be elevated, a candidate who has devoted much of her career to expanding the electorate is a natural.
But a Senate bid would sidetrack Abrams from her longtime goal of becoming governor of her state. And her national fame (burnished by her solid performance in the crucible of a State of the Union address response) has led to the more alluring possibility of a 2020 presidential candidacy and/or the second spot on a national ticket headed up by one of the many candidates already in the field. Anyone in her position would be tempted by the national spotlight after backers of Joe Biden all but begged her to join him in an early preemptive “dream ticket”; her decision to repudiate that idea just made her look even more influential, and even powerful.
She initially intended to decide on a Senate run by the end of March, but that timeline has slipped as she has toured the country, which has allowed her to develop a national political network. She said she would decide “as soon as possible” — but called it a self-imposed deadline and declined to give a specific date for announcing whether she would challenge first-term GOP Sen. David Perdue.
She’s also suggested that if she gives the Senate race a pass, she might be able to wait until the fall to decide for or against a presidential run.
Democrats have to have a backup plan for the Georgia Senate race if Abrams does demur. Fortunately for them they have a clear prospect in former Columbus mayor Teresa Tomlinson, who’s preparing for a campaign while making it clear she’ll get out in a heartbeat if Abrams decides to run against Perdue, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:
Former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson announced this morning that she has filed the paperwork to explore a 2020 challenge to U.S. Sen. David Perdue.
Tomlinson said she’s been “standing down” as she waits for Abrams to decide “because, obviously, I support Stacey.” But she also said that no one on her team has been paid for weeks, and that she doesn’t want to violate Federal Election Commission regulations.
“Stacey deserves more time to consider this, particularly with her book tour being extended, and I needed to file for the exploratory committee.”
Tomlinson will not excite national progressives the way Abrams has, to be sure. But she’s interesting. She served two terms as the white mayor of a majority-minority consolidated city-county jurisdiction whose population is about twice as large as Pete Buttigieg’s South Bend. She gained some national attention after leading a successful fundraising drive to save her alma mater, Sweet Briar College (a women’s college in central Virginia), from closure. Tomlinson self-identifies as a “pragmatic progressive” in the mold of former Sixth District Congressional candidate Jon Ossoff, which will leave some more rigorous progressives cold; but she’s hardly pursuing the old center-right Blue Dog formula, either. Most of all, her patience about Abrams’s candidacy will earn her many friends in Georgia Democratic circles.
Georgia Democrats have run women for the Senate in 2014 (Michelle Nunn) and governor in 2018, and have palpably moved to the left during the last decade without losing, and in some respects gaining, support. Demographic trends are making the state more open to progressives every day. Abrams is the ideal candidate to put Democrats over the top in a Senate race in 2020, particularly if an anti-Trump national tide combined with her own mastery of turnout tactics changes the dynamics. If for whatever reason she turns down that opportunity, Tomlinson will be ready to apply her own distinctive gifts to what will likely be a close race against Perdue, whose 46 percent approval rating and close relationship to Donald Trump do not inspire fear.