Stacey Abrams, the Georgia politician who captured national attention during her unsuccessful run for governor in 2018, has decided not to run for president after publicly contemplating a bid for months.
Ms. Abrams, a Democrat, will instead focus her efforts on preventing voter suppression with a new initiative called Fair Fight 2020, which takes its name from a group Ms. Abrams began last year after her election loss. It will work with state parties in battleground states to more closely monitor voter protection ahead of next year’s general election.
Ms. Abrams announced her decision Tuesday afternoon at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades convention in Las Vegas. Though she is sidestepping the crowded Democratic presidential field, she is likely to remain atop any Democratic nominee’s vice-presidential wish list.
“There are only two things stopping us in 2020: that people have a reason to vote, and that they have the right to vote,” Ms. Abrams said. “I’ve decided to leave it to a whole bunch of other people to make sure they have a reason to vote.”
The decision by Ms. Abrams, a former Democratic leader in the Georgia House of Representatives, ends months of speculation, some of which was fueled by Ms. Abrams herself. Repeatedly, she has said she believes she is qualified to be in the presidential field, and she has held several private meetings with other candidates, encouraging them to focus on voter suppression and fair elections as they crisscross the country for votes.
“My job is to be the voice to those who do not believe they are heard,” she said Tuesday, asking the crowd to chant, “Fair fight! Fair fight! Fair fight!”
In last year’s election for governor, Ms. Abrams narrowly lost to Brian Kemp, a Republican who was Georgia’s secretary of state and in charge of the state’s voter rolls. Civil rights groups raised questions about voter suppression and election rigging in Georgia throughout the race, including when Mr. Kemp’s office closed several polling stations in predominantly black areas and stalled more than 50,000 voter applications in the run-up to the election.
Ms. Abrams made her decision in recent days, aides said, as she determined she was comfortable with current crop of Democratic candidates.
Previously, Ms. Abrams turned down a pitch from Senator Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, to run for Senate in Georgia.
“In typical Stacey Abrams fashion, she’s taken a hard look on the best use of her time and talents are,” said Lauren Groh-Wargo, a close aide to Ms. Abrams and her campaign manager in 2018. “And while being a pundit or running for president might have been easier, fighting voter suppression and making sure our nominees have what they need to fight on the ground is what’s most important.”
Beto O’Rourke, the Texas Democrat who launched a presidential bid after a failed 2018 Senate run, commented on Ms. Abrams’s decision to stay out the race.
“We can’t solve any of the challenges we face — from health care to gun violence to climate change — without fixing our democracy,” Mr. O’Rourke tweeted. “Thank you, @StaceyAbrams, for your leadership.”
Earlier this year, Ms. Abrams delivered the Democratic response to President Trump’s State of the Union speech, earning rave reviews from party leaders. In it, she blended lofty rhetoric with pragmatic policy proposals, a combination that some of her supporters argue is ideal for a Democratic candidate hoping to defeat Mr. Trump.
Others have touted her good standing with black voters across the ideological spectrum, which could increase turnout among a critical constituency that was less than enthused about the 2016 Democratic ticket. In the last presidential election, black voter turnout dropped for the first time in two decades, according to Pew Research statistics.
Ms. Abrams was sure to face challenges had she entered the already-sprawling Democratic presidential field, where several candidates with higher national name recognition have already struggled to break through. She would have had to quickly build out a national fund-raising operation, and face off against several allies who acted as surrogates and fund-raisers for Ms. Abrams during her campaign for governor.
She would also have to face the same restrictive voting laws that, according to Ms. Abrams, stymied her in 2018.
“I can’t undo the election in 2018 and didn’t even try,” Ms. Abrams said Tuesday in Las Vegas, “but I will say something that seems to anger people when I say it: We won. We won that election.”
It has now become commonplace for Democratic presidential candidates to echo Ms. Abrams’s refrain on the campaign trail and say that they believe she would have defeated Mr. Kemp had the election been free of suppression allegations.
“Massive voter suppression prevented Stacey Abrams from becoming the rightful governor of Georgia,” Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said in an April speech.
In November, shortly after the election, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey said, “I think that Stacey Abrams’s election is being stolen from her, using what I think are insidious measures to disenfranchise certain groups of people.”
Since her loss to Mr. Kemp, Ms. Abrams has thrust her star power behind Fair Fight Action, the advocacy group she began to “expand democracy and ensure all voters have access to the polls.”
The group’s latest initiative will expand beyond Georgia to target 20 states, including across the Midwest and Southeast, and will invest up to $5 million.
It will work to correct inaccurate voter rolls, address shortages of voting machines and provisional ballots, and standardize the rules around counting absentee ballots, according to aides. There will also be a state-by-state hotline where election irregularities can be reported.
Fair Fight Action is currently suing the Georgia secretary of state’s office, asking federal courts to address voting procedures that the group claims are unconstitutional and discriminatory.