ATLANTA — Oprah Winfrey is bringing her star power to one of the nation’s hottest governor’s races, even as President Donald Trump and former President Barack Obama try to put their imprint on the Georgia election.
Winfrey is joining Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams for two town hall-style events Thursday, the same day Vice President Mike Pence travels to the state for several rallies with Republican Brian Kemp.
Trump and Obama will follow with their party’s respective candidates over the following three days. Former President Jimmy Carter, an Abrams supporter and former Georgia governor, garnered significant attention already this week with a personal plea that Kemp resign as secretary of state, Georgia’s chief elections official, to ensure public confidence in the results of what’s expected to be a close race.
The blitz underscores the high stakes in one of the defining contests of next week’s midterms, as Abrams vies to become the first black female governor in American history, while Kemp tries to maintain the GOP’s dominance in a state Democrats believe is on the cusp of becoming a presidential battleground.
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The appearance by Winfrey, among the world’s wealthiest and most well-known black women, is a significant coup for Abrams, who needs to maximize her support from nonwhite voters but also from liberal white women. All of those demographics overlap with Winfrey’s fan base, and she will hit them all with events in Republican-leaning Cobb County and heavily Democratic DeKalb County, both within miles of downtown Atlanta.
Though sometimes mentioned as a 2020 presidential candidate, Winfrey has demurred on her intentions. Her most visible foray into electoral politics was as an outspoken supporter of Obama, her fellow Chicagoan, when he first won the White House in 2008.
Trump’s scheduled appearance Sunday sidelined the last debate scheduled between Kemp and Abrams. Atlanta’s WSB-TV confirmed late Wednesday that a long-planned matchup at 5 p.m. Sunday had been cancelled and would not be rescheduled before polls open Tuesday.
The two campaigns agreed weeks ago to debate in WSB-TV studios. But Kemp’s campaign said the president’s schedule takes precedence — and he’s coming to Macon, about 100 miles south of Atlanta, to hold a campaign rally with Kemp at 4 p.m.
Kemp’s campaign attempted to blame the cancellation on Abrams, saying the Republican nominee was willing to find a new time but Abrams refused.
WSB-TV released a lengthy statement detailing its efforts to find a new time slot, but making clear that it was Kemp’s withdrawal from the original plan that set the cancellation in motion.
Multiple polls show a statistical dead heat between Kemp and Abrams, with a low percentage of undecided voters remaining. There’s a possibility of a December runoff, given that Libertarian Ted Metz also is on the ballot. Georgia requires that the winner garner a majority of the votes.
That could mean that events that energize core supporters, like a rally with Trump or Obama, carry more weight than a debate less than 48 hours before Election Day.
Both candidates have run consistent appeals to their respective bases. Kemp has embraced Trump and echoed the president’s hard-line policies on immigration, and he’s focused much of his campaigning in the state’s more conservative pockets beyond metro Atlanta.
Visits from Trump and Pence — and the location of those events — illustrate that strategy.
While Abrams has touted her experience working with Republicans as minority leader in the Georgia legislature, her positions on health care, education spending, criminal justice and gun regulations make her an unapologetic liberal. She’s openly courting Democratic-leaning voters who have largely sat out midterm elections in the past, arguing it’s a better path to victory than trying to coax crossover votes from older white voters who abandoned Democrats.
Obama will appear with Abrams on Friday at a cluster of historically black colleges near downtown Atlanta.