It’s often called the worst job in politics, but for more than 50 years someone from the opposing party has delivered a response to the President’s State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.
This time, it’s Stacey Abrams.
Democrats have tapped Georgia’s Stacey Abrams to deliver their rebuttal to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday night.
It’s a pivotal moment for both Abrams and Democrats, who hope to keep supporters energized leading into the 2020 presidential election.
The 45-year-old has been a longtime fixture in Georgia politics, spending 10 years in the state house and six of those as the minority leader.
You may know Abrams from last year’s gubernatorial race, where she lost by about 55,000 votes in a race that drew lots of national attention and money.
After 10 days of legal fights for every vote to be counted, Abrams ended her campaign, but refused to concede.
Her opponent, Republican Brian Kemp, was the sitting secretary of state, and Abrams accused him of using the office to make it harder for people to vote.
“To watch an elected official who claims to represent the people and this state baldly pin his hopes for election on the suppression of the peoples’ democratic right to vote has been truly appalling,” Abrams said at her campaign headquarters. “So let’s be clear: this is not a speech of concession.”
And that’s precisely why Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tapped Abrams to present the Democrats’ response.
“She is just a great spokesperson, she’s an incredible leader, she has lead the charge for voting rights which is at the root of just about everything else,” he told reporters last week.
In the months since the election, Abrams launched a voting rights group called Fair Fight Action. Its first order of business was to sue Georgia over its touchscreen voting system.
During Sunday’s Super Bowl, Abrams appeared in a Fair Fight Action TV ad that aired in some Georgia cities. Natalie Crawford, a Republican county commissioner from northwest Georgia, joins Abrams to call for bipartisan election reform.
While Abrams was not successful in her bid to become the country’s first female African-American governor, this national platform is trailblazing in other ways.
She will be the first black woman to give a State of the Union response, and it will be the first address from a non-sitting official.
Andra Gillespie is a political science professor at Emory University. She says this address also comes at a critical time as Democrats try to hone their message for the 2020 election.
“There’s a debate about tactics, about whether or not you should try to win back working class white voters in the middle of the country or whether or not you should focus on minority recruitment because minorities are quickly becoming the base of the party,” Gillespie said.
Plus, Abrams gives the Democratic party a fresh face to deliver their message without turning to untested new lawmakers or pick from one of the myriad candidates vying for the presidential nomination.
Gillespie also says there’s little downside for Abrams’ political future in delivering the speech, especially as she considers running against Republican Senator David Perdue next year.
“The upside of a candidate who is currently not in office being able to maintain their national presence far outweighs the potential risks,” she said.
Others haven’t been so lucky.
In 2009, Republican Governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal was a rising star in the party before his rebuttal was widely panned as simplistic and childish.
And two years ago, former Democratic Governor of Kentucky Steve Beshear opened his address with this gaffe:
But Abrams has a history of high-profile speaking appearances ranging from a prominent spot on the 2016 Democratic National Convention stage to a surprise talk at the TEDWomen conference weeks after her defeat.
She will have at least one unlikely supporter ahead of her primetime message tonight.
Last week, Trump told reporters his State of the Union address will be one of quote unity, and while he has never met Stacey Abrams, he respects her and hopes she does a good job.