Georgia's Abrams navigates voting law fight with eye on 2022

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FILE - In this Nov. 2, 2020, file photo Stacey Abrams speaks to Biden supporters as they wait for former President Barack Obama to arrive and speak at a rally as he campaigns for Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden at Turner Field in Atlanta. Abrams, Georgia's well-known voting rights advocate, is taking a carefully balanced approach in response to new laws many people have said are an attempt to suppress votes of people of color. When asked about the law changes, she is critical but measured. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

ATLANTA – President Joe Biden called Georgia's new voting law an “atrocity.” A leading Black bishop called for a national boycott of companies headquartered in the state. But when Stacey Abrams, the state’s well-known voting rights advocate, is asked about the law that has set much of her party on fire, she is critical but measured.

“These are laws that respond to an increase in voting by people of color,” Abrams told The Associated Press recently. But she discouraged boycotts and reassured Democrats they can still win races under the new rules, even as she hoped they would be struck down in the courts.

The approach demonstrates how Abrams, a former and potentially future candidate for governor, is navigating the politics in the new battleground. Abrams, her allies say, knows statewide Democratic victories — whether Biden’s in November or her own in 2022 — require winning more than just Democrats’ racially diverse and liberal base outraged over Republicans' attempts to make it harder for some citizens to vote. Democrats also need moderate voters more reluctant to take sides on the matter.

“Stacey’s been responsible. She’s tried to create a dialogue where we can create change,” said Democrat Steven Henson, a former state legislative leader alongside Abrams.

Certainly, Abrams cannot be described as anything but a staunch opponent of the new law.

Her political organization, Fair Fight, backs federal lawsuits to overturn the changes. She’s frequented national cable networks and published national op-eds criticizing the measure. In the newspaper USA Today, she called on big business to oppose related GOP measures pending in Texas and elsewhere and to put corporate muscle behind Democrats’ counter proposals in Congress.

“Republicans are gaming the system because they’re afraid of losing an election,” Abrams told the AP.

Yet Abrams has mostly avoided harsh individual criticism of Gov. Brian Kemp, her 2018 Republican rival whom she once dubbed an “architect of voter suppression.” She rarely mentions former President Donald Trump, who falsely blames his defeat on voter fraud. And she’s pointedly not backed business boycotts of her home state or consumer boycotts of the major firms, including Delta Air Lines and the Coca-Cola Co., based there.