As Graham calls off his campaign for governor, Democrats now struggling to locate a candidate to take on the billionaire
Erica Lewis is running for Georgia governor against the odds but it looks unlikely she will succeed. The 40-year-old, a single mother, one of few black women in the race, is down to her last bank of available campaign cash.
After running for office unsuccessfully in the past – she lost as the Democratic candidate for secretary of state and lost in a run-off for an Atlanta city council seat – Lewis has decided to try again.
But in her new, $400,000 campaign, she is facing the unknown as she tries to outdo the likeliest candidate, the state senator Stacey Abrams, whose union endorsements have made her the favourite in the race.
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Jealous is considered a long-shot, as is Gary Johnson, an independent.
Hans Tanzler, a professor of political science at Kennesaw State University, said: “I don’t think there is a realistic chance for Erica Lewis to win.”
Many of Georgia’s political leaders have discounted the campaign as an exercise in desperation. Few question whether Lewis, a the school wellness coordinator for the Atlanta Public Schools, is running in 2018 in order to get Donald Trump off their backs.
“The fact that she’s running is basically about getting president Trump off of her back,” said Johnny Anderson, a Democrat and recent retiree from Atlanta. “If she was running for office in her local community … she wouldn’t be running against Democrats. If she was running against her council member or senator, she would be their number one candidate.”
Lewis rejects this. On Sunday, amid the shock of the Georgia GOP scandal in a chain of text messages, she responded by calling off her campaign and saying she didn’t have “the time” to run an effective campaign.
“I don’t believe we should move forward in our state by resigning to tell Donald Trump that we can’t go forward,” she said. “We can go forward with the issues that we feel that we are going to have to fight for and to start healing the state and starting to build a better Georgia.”
Trump has weighed in, tweeting on Sunday: “Democrats are even better at running in primaries, where they have the energy and talent. You have to defeat them in November!”
In this she differs from some fellow Republicans who blame Sanders’ bid in 2016 for his loss. Ivanka Trump’s surrogate and vice-president, Mike Pence, even declared that his own Twitter profile featured a picture of her father against the backdrop of the famous Abrams-Sanders photos.
“Unfortunately, people like that say, ‘Yes I endorsed Donald Trump and yes I love him,’” Tanzler said. “They’re picking and choosing what they support and not really engaging in their states.”
When Franklin Graham announced his campaign for Georgia governor in early February, many Democrats rushed to endorse one of the Georgia evangelist’s most vocal political opponents, Abrams.
Abrams represents the polar opposite of his evangelical support – a passionate opponent of abortion, gay marriage and efforts to repeal the state’s popular voting laws.
Yet Lewis has been less shy about Trump. She has attacked him for advocating a global ban on abortion, said it was “pretty much the same thing as getting rid of same-sex marriage” and that he had abandoned traditional values in favor of “sowing resentment and division”.
The most recent candidate to pull out, despite high-profile backers, has left the Democratic party scrambling for a candidate in a race many predict will make a difference in the upcoming midterm elections.
“Basically, Erica is running in an open-seat race and nobody knows who she is,” Michael Lindell, a Republican strategist based in Atlanta. “Who is she as a candidate? Nothing. Everyone is really worried about there being an awful lot of negative noise and kind of a distraction.”
Whoever won, there was no good news for Abrams. Beyond the bitter national fight, the Democratic race in Georgia was going to become competitive, she was going to have to worry about a multi-millionaire being allowed to compete and make her fight for the popular vote even harder.
“The Democrats are a small circle to begin with,” Tanzler said. “And we don’t care a hoot who our candidates are.”