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Race 'plays a part' in Democratic 2020 candidate Beto O'Rourke's media popularity, former Georgia gubernatorial contender Stacey Abrams says

Key Points
  • Stacey Abrams, the Democrat who narrowly lost the Georgia gubernatorial race in 2018, said she believes race may be playing a role in Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke's media popularity after his failed Senate run, she told MSNBC on Wednesday.
  • Abrams suggested that she and former Democratic Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum did not receive the same attention as the former Texas congressman, whose popularity skyrocketed after losing his 2018 Senate race.
  • Both Abrams and Gillum are African American, while O'Rourke is white.
Former House Democratic Leader and Democratic nominee for Governor Stacey Abrams meets with Georgia voters in Metter, Monday November 5, 2018.
Melina Mara | The Washington Post | Getty Images

Stacey Abrams, the Democrat who narrowly lost the Georgia gubernatorial race in 2018, said she believes race may have played a role in Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke's media popularity after his failed Senate run, she told MSNBC on Wednesday.

Abrams suggested that she and Andrew Gillum, the Democrat who ran for governor in Florida, did not receive the same attention as the former Texas congressman, despite there being no "distinction with a difference between what he accomplished" and what she and Gillum achieved.

Both Abrams and Gillum are African American, while O'Rourke is white.

O'Rourke's popularity skyrocketed after losing the 2018 race for a Texas Senate seat by 2.6 percentage points to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. His narrow loss in a deep-red state turned him into a social media sensation and media darling. He entered the presidential race early this month after weeks of anticipation and is quickly climbing in the polls.

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Stacey Abrams delivers Democratic response to State of the Union

In a Morning Consult poll released on Tuesday on 2020 Democratic primary contenders, O'Rourke scored 8 percent, tied with Sen. Kamala Harris and lagging Sen. Bernie Sanders' 25 percent. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has yet to announce whether he will run for president, leads the pack with 35 percent.

Like O'Rourke, Abrams and Gillum came close to winning elections in historically Republican states.

Abrams lost the Georgia gubernatorial election by 2 percentage points to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp. She initially refused to concede the race, alleging voter suppression influenced the election process. Gillum came even closer to winning his race. He lost by 0.4 percentage points to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

However, Abrams said she and Gillum did not earn the same notoriety as O'Rourke following their runs.

Abrams said Wednesday she does not want to disparage or take away from the "legitimate" response people had to O'Rourke's campaign, but she questioned why she and Gillum were not "lifted up" in the same way after their campaigns.

"I think race plays a part," Abrams said. "I think region plays a part. I also think phenotype plays a part." The term phenotype refers to physical appearance among other characteristics.

Gillum and O'Rourke's offices did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

Abrams, who earned widespread praise from Democrats after becoming the first black woman to ever deliver the formal response to the president's State of the Union address in 2018, teased a number of potential political career choices in her interview with MSNBC. She said she is considering a possible run for president and for a seat in the Senate.

Abrams was also reported to be an early running mate for Biden, though she dismissed those rumors Wednesday on ABC's "The View."

Abrams said that she would not run "second place" in the Democratic primary as Biden's pick for vice president.

"If I'm going to enter a primary, then I'm going to enter a primary," she said. She didn't completely strike down the possibility of becoming Biden's vice president pick at some point in the future, though.