Stacey Abrams made it official this week that she would not seek the presidency after months of speculation among Democrats, becoming one of the most prominent party leaders to pass on the 2020 race. But in an interview Tuesday night, she said she was open to being considered for the No. 2 spot by “any nominee.”
Ms. Abrams, who drew national attention during her unsuccessful run for governor of Georgia last year, said that she would focus her next year on identifying and stemming voter suppression efforts throughout the country, a major priority for her for years, instead of running for president or the Senate.
But she has remained close to the presidential race, meeting privately with several candidates and topping lists of potential vice presidents.
On Tuesday, Ms. Abrams spoke to The New York Times about why she decided not to run for president, how she feels about the possibility of being on a 2020 ticket, and why Democrats should not shy away from the politics of identity.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
When did you come to the decision not to run for president?
I’ve been thinking about this for the last few weeks, and I’ve just come to the decision that my best value add, the strongest contribution I can give to this primary, would be to make sure our nominee is coming into an environment where there’s strong voter protections in place.
Was it always trending this way? Or were you close to getting into the race?
Of course, I would not have publicly raised the possibility if it was not a legitimate thought. But I don’t believe standing for office is something that you do simply because the office is available. I need to know that it’s the best choice and it’s the best role for me to play. And I’ve been pleased with the direction of the field.
I asked two things with all the presidential nominees I’ve met with. One is that they make voter suppression their number one issue. And two, that they make Georgia a top priority because it is a battleground state.
You also turned down the opportunity to run for Senate in Georgia. Is it just that you had your heart set on governor? Or is it that you are looking at being vice president?
I’m certainly open to other political opportunities.
My decision not to run for the Senate was because I do not want to serve in the Senate. I think that there are people who are running who are the right people for that job. And I’m going to do my best to ensure that they can become the senator from Georgia. And that means fighting voter suppression. That means making sure that we are learning things from our 2018 campaign.
But as I think about my next step, my first responsibility is to ensure that when the primary is done — when the nominee decides to choose their running mate — that they are choosing based on knowing that we are in a country where we have built the infrastructure in those battleground states. And that I’ve done my part.
So in saying you’re open to other opportunities, that includes any potential selection for vice president?
I would be honored to be considered by any nominee.
But my responsibility is to focus on the primary. And that means using the primary as an opportunity to build the apparatus to fight voter suppression. Because in the end, no matter where I fit, no matter which ones of our nominees win, if we haven’t fought this scourge, if we haven’t pushed back against Moscow Mitch and his determination to block any legislation that would cure our voting machines, then we are all in a world of trouble.
Wouldn’t the best way to fight Mitch McConnell be to run for Senate?
I appreciate the importance of that role. But I am not so arrogant as to believe I’m the only one who can win that.
So does this decision mean that there won’t be a Stacey Abrams endorsement during the primaries?
I do not foresee making any decisions about the candidates in the primaries right now.
One of the conversations dominating the primary is about electability, and obviously that has had connotations with race and gender. As you’ve seen that play out, what goes through your mind?
Different is always uncomfortable, but it’s always necessary. And what I’ve seen happen is, as the top 10 nominees shake out, we have a remarkable diversity among those who are viable standard-bearers for the Democratic Party.
But the guy at the top is still an older white guy, the establishment. Does that disprove your point?
The phenotype of our candidates is going to continue to expand. Who we have to stand for office, those people are going to look more and more like America. That’s one of the reasons we’re not only focusing on the battleground places for the presidency, but the battleground states for the Senate.
We want to change the overarching conversation about who is electable. And we do that by electing people who look like America.
One of the things I think is really interesting is the way you talk about identity politics. How have you seen that conversation develop in 2020?
We must understand the challenges that we face — whether it’s a white suburban mom, who has to deal with not having access to public transit to get to your child’s school and then get to their job, or an African-American farmer who’s isolated from the internet and can’t figure out how to get his produce to market.
Our responsibility is to know that those identities are real, and the barriers to their success are real. And that we should see those identities and embrace the politics of fixing the barriers, of removing the structural obstacles.
I do push back against any politician, Democrat or Republican, who would offer this notion that talking about identity is somehow dangerous. It is the only way we are successful. This is how people see themselves in our politics.
Last question: How often do you think about how close you were to winning the governorship, and are there any regrets from your run of last year?
What I regret every day is that we could not stop [Brian Kemp] from bastardizing this whole process, from denying the franchise to those who had earned it by being Americans and tried to use right to vote to set the course of their futures.
And I will always be deeply, deeply hurt that we live in a nation that permitted that to happen.