NORCROSS, Ga. — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is defending remarks she made over the weekend that Georgia is the “worst state in the country to live,” referring to its poor rankings in maternal mortality and incarceration rates, among other issues.
Abrams’s remarks drew instant rebukes from her Republican rivals. One, former Sen. David Perdue, used her comments as a point of departure to accuse her of “demeaning her own race.”
Abrams made the comments in question at a fundraising dinner for Gwinnett County Democrats outside Atlanta when she pushed back on Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s frequent boasts about Georgia being ranked the best state in the country for business.
“I am tired of hearing about being the best state in the country to do business when we are the worst state in the country to live,” Abrams, who is expected to formally receive her party’s nomination for governor in Georgia’s primary on Tuesday, said Saturday in remarks that received extended applause.
“Now, somebody’s going to try to Politifact me on this — let me contextualize,” Abrams continued. “When you’re No. 48 for mental health, when you’re No. 1 for maternal mortality, when you have an incarceration rate that’s on the rise and wages that are on the decline, then you are not the No. 1 place to live in the United States. But we can get there. You see, Georgia is capable of greatness. We just need greatness to be in our governor’s office.”
Both Kemp and Perdue criticized Abrams for her comments.
Perdue made his response racial during a Monday afternoon interview with John Fredericks, a conservative radio show host who bills himself as “America’s Godzilla of Truth.”
“Hey, she ain’t from here. Let her go back where she came from. She doesn’t like it here,” Perdue, who is white, said of Abrams, a Black woman who born in Wisconsin and raised in Mississippi before attending high school and college in Georgia.
Perdue then pivoted to remarks Abrams said in 2018 concerning Black farmers and hospitality workers and said “she is demeaning her own race when it comes to that, I’m really over this.”
Abrams, who has previously accused Republicans of twisting her words, could not be immediately reached for comment about Perdue’s remarks.
Abrams over the weekend clarified her comments about Georgia in a tweet and in an Instagram post. Georgia does hold the highest maternal mortality rate in the country and is one of many states with a minimum wage that equals the federal rate, but fares better in other categories like education and crime.
Her comment sparked criticism from the right, with former Trump White House adviser Stephen Miller dubbing it “a contender for all-time worst campaign slogan” and Fox News host Brian Kilmeade calling it “very odd.”
Kemp responded on Twitter by saying that he believes Georgia is the “best state to live, work, and raise a family” and that he will “work hard every day from now until November to keep it that way.”
The governor’s campaign also said he is likely to address Abrams’ remarks on stage Monday night during a rally with former Vice President Mike Pence.
Perdue’s campaign has struggled to gain traction and polls show the incumbent far ahead.
Kemp narrowly defeated Abrams in 2018, and their likely rematch in November is expected to be one of the highest-profile governor’s races in the country, testing just how blue historically red Georgia has become.
CORRECTION (May 23, 2022, 9:38 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated when Stacey Abrams clarified her remarks on social media. It was over the weekend, not Thursday.
Alex Seitz-Wald is senior digital politics reporter for NBC News.