In Close Races for Women Democrats in Red States, Very Different Outcomes

Tight and fiercely fought races in Georgia and Arizona, both marred by voter-suppression controversies, are finally called.

Riva Richmond By Riva Richmond

Stacey Abrams and Sarah Riggs Amico, who sought to lead the state of Georgia, both lost in a close and bitterly fought election. Katie Hobbs won her race to become Arizona’s next secretary of state.

Three final nailbiter races for women candidates in our Running Women project — all Democrats running ambitious campaigns for executive offices in red states — have reached quite different ends.

The two women on the Democratic ticket to lead the state of Georgia, governor candidate Stacey Abrams and running mate Sarah Riggs Amico, who sought the lieutenant governorship, both lost in a close and bitterly fought election marred by claims of vote rigging. Meanwhile, Democrat Katie Hobbs won her race to become Arizona’s next secretary of state, putting her in position to fix an election system that has been beset by multiple problems and that she has also claimed was used by Republicans to suppress votes.

Bitterness in Georgia

For more than a week, the Georgia races were too close to call, although the Republican candidates, Brian Kemp and Geoff Duncan, respectively, retained small leads throughout. Abrams’ race was especially closely watched, since she was within striking distance of becoming the country’s first African-American woman governor. Her well-funded, aggressive voter turnout effort focused on getting minorities, women and young people out to the polls, many for the first time, and helped drive record turnout for a non-presidential year of more than 3.9 million voters.

At the same time, Abrams’ campaign repeatedly and bitterly accused Kemp, who as secretary of state was in charge of the election, of using his office to suppress Democratic votes, especially those of minorities and students. Behind in the tally by a razor-thin margin, her team mounted a spirited legal and public relations effort to try to force the counties to count all eligible votes and spotlighted evidence of voting mismanagement and irregularities.

[Related Q&A: Stacey Abrams on Turning Georgia Blue]

But in the end it wasn’t enough. On Friday, Abrams was still about 17,000 votes from a runoff that would have given her one more shot. She ended her campaign, acknowledging that she could not prevail in the certified vote due that day — officially, Kemp had 50.2 percent of the vote to Abrams’ 48.8 percent — and that there were no more viable ways to challenge the outcome.

But she refused to concede or call Kemp’s election legitimate. Watching Kemp “baldly pin his hopes for election on the suppression of the people’s democratic right to vote – has been truly appalling,” she said in a speech. “I will not concede because the erosion of our democracy is not right.”

Abrams said she would launch an effort to seek accountability and integrity in Georgia’s elections and voting rolls, dubbed Fair Fight Georgia. “In the coming days, we will be filing a major federal lawsuit against the state of Georgia for the gross mismanagement of this election and to protect future elections from unconstitutional actions,” she said in the speech. While she may again run for office in the future, her immediate focus will be fighting to “fix what is broken” in Georgia’s election system, she said in a television interview with 11Alive.

Meanwhile, Riggs Amico, after a long silence, made a public statement on Monday on Facebook. She struck a gracious, sunny tone that praised Georgians for coming out in droves in a renewed embrace of civic engagement and support of her first-time candidacy, which called for a return to bipartisan cooperation and civility in politics. Riggs Amico lost to Duncan 51.6 percent to 48.4 percent, according to the final tally.

But she also acknowledged the painful controversy swirling in Georgia. “For all of the success we enjoyed, this election also demonstrated there is still much work to do in Georgia to ensure every vote counts, every voice is heard, and every eligible voter can exercise their constitutional right to vote,” she wrote. And she urged supporters to vote for the Democratic candidate, John Barrow, who aims to succeed Kemp as secretary of state and will be on the ballot of a runoff election on Dec. 4.

An Arizona Win

Meanwhile in Arizona, Katie Hobbs won her race to become the next secretary of state, putting her in charge of statewide elections that have faced multiple glitches under a Republican who lost her primary contest amid dogged criticism from all sides. The win puts Hobbs second in line to the governor, since Arizona does not have a lieutenant governor.

Hobbs, the minority leader in the Arizona Senate, focused her campaign on proposals to improve voting access and clean up those well-publicized election-system problems as well as remove barriers to voting in front of eligible Arizonans.

[Related Q&A: Katie Hobbs is Itching to Fight Voter Suppression]

“As Secretary of State, I will work to ensure that every eligible voter — Republican, Democrat, Independent, Green, Libertarian — can cast your ballot with the confidence that your vote counts and your voice matters, and do so in a way that is meaningful and convenient for you,” she said in a statement.

Hobbs declared victory Friday night, when she was ahead of Gaynor by more than 15,000 votes and additional results from Democrat-leaning Maricopa County were still due in over the weekend. She had been behind in the election night tally, and the Associated Press called the race for her opponent. But with hundreds of thousands of votes yet to be counted, Hobbs refused to concede. And by last Monday she was in the lead by about 5,000 votes, and the AP retracted its call. The latest tally has Hobbs ahead by 20,251 votes with 50.4 percent of more than 2.3 million votes cast.

Hobbs won in a state with more registered Republicans by striking a moderate tone that won over independents and moderate Republican women in the state’s suburbs, analysts said. The state’s new Democratic senator, Kyrsten Simena, pursued a similar winning strategy.

[Related: Women Running for Office in 2018 Achieve Record-Breaking Wins]

Posted: November 20, 2018

Riva RichmondIn Close Races for Women Democrats in Red States, Very Different Outcomes