ATLANTA - Republican Angela Stanton-King knows her outspoken support for Donald Trump is dragging down her longshot candidacy in the South’s most Democratic congressional district, but she’s not walking away from the president.
For her part, Democrat Nikema Williams aims to let Stanton-King sink on her own, saying she’s seeking to drive up turnout to defeat Trump in Georgia and nationwide.
Williams, a state senator and chair of the Georgia Democratic Party, was tapped to succeed civil rights immortal John Lewis as the party’s nominee in the 5th District, which includes much of the city of Atlanta as well as parts of neighboring DeKalb and Clayton counties.
Lewis died from pancreatic cancer in July after winning a primary for an 18th term, meaning it was too late under state law for an election to determine who Democrats would nominate.
The 42-year-old Williams said she wants to go to Congress to use federal power to make changes in Georgia and the South, providing more subsidized health care and doing more to guarantee voting rights.
“I thought long and hard about the impact I’m able to have in the state and the laws that I want to look at that affect people’s ability to thrive in the state,” Williams said. “COVID has really shined a spotlight on the disparities in this country.”
The nomination continues a climb through Democratic ranks for Williams. She won a special election to state Senate in 2017, and became party chair in 2019. Williams is an ally of 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
Williams is taking an above-the-fray approach in her campaign, declining to run in a special election that will fill out the remainder of Lewis’ term, as did Stanton-King. Both women are African American. Williams is also declining to debate Stanton-King, saying she refuses to face the Republican because Stanton-King spreads falsehoods on social media and because she fears Stanton-King would be just as disruptive as Trump was in his first debate against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
“I’m not going to give her a platform,” Williams said. “I’m not going to legitimize her candidacy.”
The 43-year-old Stanton-King accuses Williams of being “afraid to face me.” She argues voters should give her candidacy a look, pushing a message that Trump is delivering economically for African Americans and that Democrats have empty promises.
“If people would just look at me as Angela Stanton-King, the candidate, someone who is from Atlanta, someone who is going to use their own personal experience to make things better for this district,” she said.
Williams has organized a campaign committee but hasn’t filed any reports yet. Through June 30, Stanton-King had raised $70,000.
Stanton-King has a combative online presence that prominently features her support for Trump. She’s tweeted multiple times in recent days defenses of Trump’s refusal in the first presidential debate to condemn the Proud Boys, a far-right group, in another example of Trump’s refusal to denounce white supremacists.
An author and reality television personality Stanton-King has a personal connection to Trump. The president pardoned Stanton-King in February for her role in a car theft ring that led to a 2004 conviction on federal conspiracy charges and two years in prison.
She is one of a wavelet of pro-Trump Black candidates running in heavily Democratic districts, including Kimberly Klacik in Baltimore. There is some evidence that Trump’s economic message is bringing a few more African American voters to Trump, especially among men. Kwanza Hall, the leading Democratic candidate in the special election for the remainder of Lewis’ term, said he sees it.
“Republicans have figured out, let’s focus on the pocketbook issues,” said Hall, a former Atlanta City Council member.
Another clash is on abortion. Stanton-King’s entry into Trump’s circle came through evangelist and anti-abortion advocate Alveda King, a niece of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. She is Stanton-King’s godmother, but the candidate is not related to the famous family. Williams spent years working for Planned Parenthood lobbying to defend abortion, while Stanton-King opposes abortion.
“It’s hypocritical to say ‘Black Lives Matter’ when we know Black life begins in the womb,” Stanton-King said.
But despite the attention Stanton-King has gotten from Trump and conservative media, Emory University’s Andra Gillespie says the chance of a GOP breakthrough is low because “the district is overwhelmingly Democratic.” The professor who studies Black politics said Republicans just can’t overcome the “stumbling block of race.”
“There are actually a lot of conservative Blacks, but because of the perception of racism in the Republican party, Republicans miss opportunities to recruit conservative Blacks,” she said.