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As She Runs For Governor, Stacey Abrams Evokes Her Life story

'I have lived a real life' In March, Abrams released financial disclosure forms that laid bare her challenges: she owed $54,000 to the Internal Revenue Service and about $170,000 in credit card and student loan debt. Her Republican opponent, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, has blasted Abrams for loaning her campaign $50,000 while owing taxes, saying: "If that's not criminal, it should be."

Abrams deferred her tax payments in 2015 and 2016, according to her campaign, and entered into a payment plan with the IRS because she was helping her family. Abrams said she financially supported her parents after Hurricane Katrina damaged their home and the church where her mother worked.

Her mother and father -- who has required treatment for prostate cancer -- have taken in Abrams' 92-year-old maternal grandmother, who fell and broke her back. They also adopted their 12-year-old granddaughter, Faith. They took in Faith because their son, Walter, and his wife were addicted to drugs and lost custody of her.

Abrams said she has paid her 2016 taxes. And the $150,000 advance she got for her memoir, she said, made it possible for her to loan her campaign money. Her campaign, she added, has paid her back.

"You may have heard a little bit about my personal debt. That's because I have lived a real life," she said at the Democratic gala in Columbus last month. "I have had to take care of my parents and my niece and my grandmother. But I have never shirked my responsibilities."

Abrams has also faced criticism for refusing to reveal the names of donors who contributed $12.5 million to a pair of non-profit, tax -exempt foundations she created to increase voter participation -- and which paid her almost $500,000.

Questions have been raised about whether the effort was a ploy to boost Abrams' profile and introduce her to wealthy donors now bankrolling her gubernatorial bid. She has defended the groups' work registering and mobilizing Georgia voters.

Her bid for statewide office has been, in a sense, head-spinning. In the Democratic primary, she was cast by her rival as too willing to compromise with Republicans over landmark legislation such as the Hope scholarship overhaul. In the general election, Kemp and his allies have painted her as an "extremist," "radical" and too liberal for Georgia.

She's tried to thread that needle, emphasizing her pragmatic streak working with Republicans while also highlighting her progressive stance on debates over abortion and guns. And at the center of her campaign is a pledge to expand Medicaid, a proposal she believes is now firmly in the mainstream.

But for some Abrams critics, the problem comes down to simple politics.

"Some of the ideas she has are just a little, I wouldn't say extreme, but they're a little out of touch with what I view," said Logan Waldrop, a 19-year-old junior at the University of Georgia. "She's wanting to increase government spending. That kind of goes against what I believe."

Walter's story When Abrams talks about what she would do as governor she occasionally shares her younger brother Walter's story, saying expanding Medicaid would help people like him, a heroin addict living in Mississippi.

When Walter first landed behind bars in 2014, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a disease that can cause sudden and extreme mood swings. In prison, he sobered up and was stabilized with medication. But when he was released from prison, he lost his health coverage and access to medicine and struggled to find a job and a home. Relapsing, he went behind bars again.

"This is personal for me. I have a younger brother who is bipolar and who is also a heroin addict," Abrams said at a campaign stop last month in Plains, where former President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter stood by her side.

"And he is in and out of the criminal justice system because he lives in a state that like Georgia refused to expand Medicaid. Expansion of Medicaid saves lives. It also saves dollars and it makes our states healthier."

Days earlier, Abrams delivered a similar message about expanding Medicaid at a campaign stop in the shadow of Grady Memorial Hospital. Alexis Dunn, an Emory University nursing professor from McDonough, showed up to support her, drawn by Abrams' focus on healthcare.

"She just has a platform that feels real -- that actually seems like it is going to address some actual issues -- with a realistic plan to accomplish those things," said Dunn, a nurse midwife. "One of the key things to being a good writer is clarity of thought. And you can tell that she thinks about a lot of things and she knows how to put things together and present it in a way that people understand."

--Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this report.

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