Charles S. Bullock III is the Distinguished University Professor of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia and co-author of “Statewide African-American candidates in the New South.”

Not too long ago, Democrats thought Stacey Abrams was firmly leading Georgia in the blue column. Now they are worried. And they should be, not just because she’s lagging behind in her second bid to become state governor, but also because Georgia’s statewide elections increasingly depend on the slightest movements of the electorate. That will likely be true for years to come in this neither red nor blue state.

Many party members thought the Democratic leaning was clear when Abrams came within 55,000 votes to become the nation’s first black female governor in 2018, and her electorate expansion paid off when Joe Biden became the first non-incumbent Democrat to win statewide since 1998. The Senate victories of Democrats Raphael G. Warnock and Jon Ossoff in their 2021 runoff seemed to confirm the Peach State’s blueing.

But now Abrams’ second gubernatorial campaign languishes, with polls still showing her solidly outside the margin of error, in a rematch with Republican rival Gov. Brian Kemp. Between the two elections, his books and speeches attracted a national audience and, significantly for his campaign, a national fundraising base. That gave Abrams a financial edge, but Kemp has perhaps a bigger edge: tenure. Across the country and in most offices, incumbents are generally successful unless they are entangled in scandal.

During the campaign trail, Kemp points to Georgia’s record unemployment rate, which he attributes to his decision to quickly end pandemic restrictions. He also touts the $5,000 increase in state teacher pay; a $500 income tax refund to families filing jointly; and the decision of two electric vehicle manufacturers, Hyundai and Rivian, to build factories that will create thousands of jobs. GOP announcements herald additional reasons to renew Kemp’s contract by tying Abrams to Biden and inflation. That message was reinforced last weekend with news that Atlanta has the second-highest inflation rate in the nation, behind Phoenix.

Abrams is trying to distract from Biden and inflation, instead focusing on issues where Kemp is out of step with a majority of Georgians. Most Georgians (53.7%) oppose the overthrow of the Roe vs. Wade and some more objection to the law passed in Kemp’s freshman year that prohibits abortions after six weeks, except in cases of rape, incest, and the life of the mother. Abrams also focuses on Kemp’s support for a 2022 law eliminating the permit requirement for carrying a concealed weapon. Ending the requirement is unpopular with 61% of Georgians.

Still, Abrams’ campaign has struggled to gain traction in a state where the evenness of the red/blue mix can best be seen in the Senate neck-and-neck race between Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker.

Like a creature in a horror movie, former President Donald Trump hovers over the Kemp-Abrams contest. Kemp has drawn Trump’s ire by refusing to indulge his false claims of winning Georgia in 2020, but he has also refused to counter Trump’s vitriol. In seeking re-election, the governor must maintain a delicate balance.

By signaling that he is truly his own man, Kemp can hope to win over some college-educated white suburbanites who remain Republicans but cannot bring themselves to support Trump. By not attacking Trump, Kemp could also draw votes from at least some of the former president’s supporters.

But if Trump decides to campaign in Georgia in the remaining weeks before the midterms, reiterating his 2020 election demands and launching new attacks on Kemp, it could discourage enough GOP voters to deny the governor a second term. .

It’s not the only joker. Republicans are feverishly trying to break through to minority voters in the Democratic base. They established three outreach posts in metro Atlanta — one aimed at African Americans, another targeting a largely Hispanic area, and the third focused on Asian Americans. Consider: If Trump had won one more percentage point of the black vote in 2020, his claimed victory in Georgia would be a reality.

For Abrams, the challenge will be to achieve a 29-29 election – a variant of what used to be the 30-30 formula in Georgia, which argued that if a Democratic candidate could attract 30% of white votes and if blacks in cast 30 percent of all votes, the Democrat would win. Now, as the state’s electorate diversifies, 29-29 is enough — that’s about what Biden, Warnock and Ossoff achieved.

These results, however, came with Trump very much in the mix. Kemp could be forgiven for praying that, with so many other state contests to go before Nov. 8, the former president doesn’t have Georgia on his mind.