Abrams rakes in money from other states ahead of the big battle for Georgia governor’s job

With the primary behind them, Stacey Abrams and incumbent Brian Kemp can now focus on each other as their grudge rematch for Georgia governor heats up.

They have a lot of money, especially Abrams. In less than two months after the May primary, her campaign group One Georgia raised more than $18 million.

Abram’s treasury is filled with large contributions from progressive mega-donor George Soros and smaller ones from Hollywood stars like Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand, Tom Hanks and Bryan Cranston.

Kemp and his Georgians First group have raised $7.6 million so far.

Kemp’s campaign is reaching some big donors in Texas, but it doesn’t have that kind of star power. He doesn’t need that much money, said University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock.

“An incumbent is running on his record,” Bullock said. “Sometimes they run away, but Brian [Kemp] won’t do that. He is very happy with his three and a half years [in office].”

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks at a news conference on the state’s Election Integrity Act on April 10, 2021 in Marietta, Georgia. (Megan Varner/Getty Images)

Bullock said challengers need big bucks to spread their message. They don’t necessarily have to spend more than the incumbent, but the more they spend, the better they do. “You need enough to make the incumbent an issue. You need to get some voters to reconsider their decision [to vote for him].”

How much money incumbents spend is inversely proportional to their performance, he said. If they’re doing well, they don’t have to spend as much. When they’re behind, they have to spend more to catch up.

Abrams’ fundraising is impressive, but less than what some candidates in other major gubernatorial elections are mustering, according to state databases or nonprofit monitoring groups that track campaign finance. However, most of them are incumbents.

Texas incumbent Republican Greg Abbott has raised $72 million. Republican Ron DeSantis, Florida’s incumbent, has raked in over $96 million. Democrat Kathy Hochul, who has been governor of New York for less than a year since Andrew Cuomo’s resignation, raised nearly $40 million. Democrat Gavin Newsom, who is running for re-election in California and is not facing strong opposition, has raised more than $18 million. Ohio Republican Mike DeWine has raised $22 million.

One of the few non-incumbents to raise that kind of money is Pennsylvania Democrat Josh Shapiro with $20.5 million, but he’s running for a vacant seat.

Roughly two-thirds of Abrams’ gold rush in May and June came from a handful of million-dollar donors: George Soros’ Democracy PAC II, $2.5 million; AFSCME, the Union of Public Workers, $1.02 million; Association of Democratic Governors, $2 million; Abrams-founded Fair Fight Inc. PAC in Georgia, $1.5 million; the IBEW union, $1 million; Karla T. Jurvetson, a California psychiatrist and philanthropist who was once married to one of Elon Musk’s early Silicon Valley supporters, $2.5 million; Elizabeth Simons of California, $1 million; and Selwyn Donald Sussman, a financial advisor, $1 million.

Another big donor was Emily’s List, to which Soros’ PAC donates itself, with $250,000, and the Way to Win Action Fund, created by the founders of ebay, with $500,000.

Unions stood up for Abrams: American Federation of Teachers, $400,000; Communications Worker of America, $150,000; the Teachers’ Union of the National Education Association, $300,000; Service Employees International Union, $500,000; United Association Political Issues Fund, a plumber’s and plumber’s union, $250,000; and United Domestic Workers of America, $20,000.

Some other big donors were philanthropist Melinda Gates, $200,000; Greylock Partners’ Reid Hoffman, $400,000; Lisa Minsky-Primus of New York, $500,000; Steve Phillips of San Francisco, President of the Sandler Phillips Center, $250,000; Teresa Roseborough of Atlanta, an attorney for Home Depot, $100,000; Lynn Schusterman and Stacy H. Schusterman, both from Tulsa, Oklahoma, $250,000 each.

Abrams rakes in money from other states ahead of the big battle for Georgia governor’s job Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams during a news conference at the Israel Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia on May 24, 2022. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

“She has the backing of liberal billionaires in New York, California and Chicago. She will surpass us,” said Kemp’s spokesman Tate Mitchell. “We have the resources to keep up.”

“She was the great unifier for the Republicans. She’s made it clear that she intends to use the Georgia governor’s office to run for president, so Republicans are watching that race. She wants to bring the liberal agenda to Georgia.”

Abrams has previously shown himself to be a strong fundraiser, including raising money for other candidates, said Fred Hicks, an Atlanta political strategist who usually works for Democrats.

She has attracted female donors, Hicks said. After Hillary Clinton’s disgruntled loss to Donald Trump in 2016 and the subsequent women’s march in Washington, Stacey Abrams was seen as a strong female candidate for the future, and donors, realizing they needed to up their game, supported her.

The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision last month, in which Roe v. Wade’s repeal could give women more momentum to support the candidacy of Abrams, a staunch pro-abortion advocate, Hicks said.

It will depend in part on what the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decides on Kemp’s Heartbeat bill, Hicks said.

The law, which Kemp signed into law in 2019, would ban most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around the sixth week of pregnancy. Opponents sued and a federal judge ruled the law unconstitutional in 2020.

The state appealed the decision, but with the Dobbs verdict looming last year, the Court of Appeals upheld its decision. It will likely dispose of the case soon.

“If courts reject the Heartbeat bill, you will see more support and enthusiasm among Republicans. And if the court upholds Heartbeat, you’ll see a surge in giving among Democratic donors and a surge in enthusiasm,” Hicks said.

Despite renewed activism as progressives responded to Dobbs, Hicks warned Democrats not to get their hopes up.

“As [Bill Clinton adviser James] Carville said, “It’s the economy, fool.” Everything is being tempered by the economy, inflation and the rising cost of everything,” Hicks said.

“In 2018 [during the first Abrams-Kemp race], you didn’t have that out there. Trump was president and said stupid things, but the economy was in a different place.”

“Everyone concedes that the national environment is making it difficult for Abrams and [Democratic incumbent senator Raphael] Warnock,” said Hicks. “They’re trying to figure out how to navigate it. Democrats want to keep it local” — issues like health care, social services and jobs — “while Republicans want to nationalize it. This is the competition. Whoever defines it wins.”

Kemp has many local issues to deal with, Bullock said. His supporters are happy with his work on issues such as abortion, electoral integrity and guns, as he signed legislation allowing people to carry guns without a permit.

He acted promptly to reopen the state relatively quickly during the Covid lockdown.

Kemp’s record allowed him to run strongly against Trump-backed David Perdue in the primary.

Bullock said Trump’s support of Kemp was more important then in 2018, but Kemp now has his own record.

However, in a close race, he must win back those voters who thought he hadn’t done enough for Trump in the 2020 election controversy.

Dan M Berger