Stacey Abrams' playbook faces a new test in second run for Georgia governor

(CNN)When Stacey Abrams acknowledged defeat to Republican Brian Kemp in her 2018 campaign for governor of Georgia, she refused to call it a "concession." Four years later, the man she once described as an "architect of voter suppression" is the incumbent -- and the state she came so close to leading has enacted some of the nation's most restrictive voting laws.

Abrams is running unopposed in Tuesday's Democratic gubernatorial primary, which means her general election campaign really began in December 2021, when she announced plans to run against Kemp, who's facing a Donald Trump-backed primary threat. But Abrams' status has changed since her name was last on the ballot.

An underdog with little following outside of Georgia four years ago, the former state House minority leader is now one of the most popular Democrats in the country -- a political star some in the party wanted to run for president and a key figure in helping turn the state blue for Joe Biden in 2020 and electing Democratic Sens. Raphael Warnock, who is on the ballot again this year, and Jon Ossoff in subsequent runoffs.  

Abrams' rise to national prominence has also triggered a backlash from Republicans. Her efforts to increase access to the ballot and turnout in communities traditionally ignored by candidates from both parties has run up against Trump-inspired Republican efforts to make voting more difficult, with Georgia at the front of that line.

Abrams must also contend with a harsher political atmosphere: the Democratic wave of 2018 has crested and the 2022 midterms are expected to be much kinder to Republicans, who are now riding a swell of discontent over Biden and Democratic rule on Capitol Hill.

Though the circumstances around her have changed, Abrams says this campaign's mission looks a lot like the old one's -- to drive turnout among new and occasional voters, while hammering Kemp and Republicans over issues like health care and education.

"We have to reach every single voter, in every way we can. We had record turnout and we saw a composition of voters the state had never seen before," Abrams told CNN. "My mission in '22 is to go back to those voters and tell them how working together, we can make certain they thrive, and that will lead us to victory in November."

In March, she launched her "One Georgia" tour in front of a closed rural hospital, pledging to expand Medicaid if elected. Though she is recognized nationally for her work as a voting rights advocate and organizer, Abrams is -- again -- centering her campaign on the state's economic disparities and the intersection of race and health care in a state where the maternal mortality rate is more than twice the national average.  

Leading Abrams supporters are confident her message will break through the national din.

"Stacey has a very localized approach. And I think that's really important, because if we were to gauge how people are going to be voting based on the approval ratings of Biden, we know that that's going to be a disaster," said Michelle Sanchez, field director for Poder Latinx. "But she has been a champion here in Georgia for so long."