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Stacey Abrams wins Georgia Democratic primary, seeks to become nation's 1st black female governor

Former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams won the Democratic nomination for the state's top office on Tuesday, defeating ex-state Rep. Stacey Evans and advancing her quest to become the nation’s first black female elected governor. 

>> Watch the news report here

She will face one of two Republicans in November in the race to succeed Gov. Nathan Deal, a competition that will test whether the state is truly competitive after more than a decade of GOP rule. 

>> Midterm 2018: Here are the Senate races that you should be watching

“We are writing the next chapter of Georgia history, where no one is unseen, no one is unheard and no one is uninspired,” a jubilant Abrams said, adding: “And I know for the journey ahead, we need every voice in our party – and every independent thinker in the state.”

Abrams attracted national attention, big-name endorsements and millions of dollars in outside spending with her “unapologetic progressive” platform to flip the Georgia governor’s office for the first time since 2002. 

>> On AJC.com: Cagle, Kemp headed to runoff for GOP nomination

She overcame a stiff challenge from Evans, who tried to frame herself as the more ardent progressive. Evans fueled her campaign with nearly $2 million of her own money, pummeling Abrams with criticism for supporting a 2011 Republican-backed measure that cut awards to the HOPE scholarship. 

Each of the Democratic and Republican candidates tried to carve out his or her niche in a race that attracted more than $22 million in campaign contributions – and flooded the airwaves with more than $13 million in TV ads. 

>> Midterm 2018: House races you should be watching

Though her Republican opponent is not yet known – Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle will face Secretary of State Brian Kemp in a July 24 showdown – the Georgia GOP quickly attacked her over her financial background. 

“I’ve tried to make sense of her personal and professional finances, and my head is spinning,” said Georgia GOP chair John Watson, who called on her to release her tax returns and other financial records. 

Abrams owes more than $200,000 in debts, including about $54,000 to the IRS. She has said she’s on payment plan to pay back the debt, and has sought to frame her struggles as evidence she understands the problems that Georgians face.

>> Midterm elections 2018: When are the primaries? A state-by-state list

Evans, meanwhile, quickly endorsed Abrams and vowed to help Democrats form a united front against President Donald Trump and state Republicans.

"The Democratic Party is trying to find a unified voice to rally against Trump,” said Evans. “We must do that." 

Shifting strategy 

The Democrats largely abandoned centrist talk to appeal instead to left-leaning voters with a promise of implementing gun control, increasing financial aid for lower-income families and taking steps toward the decriminalization of marijuana.

That’s a stark contrast from more moderate appeals from a generation of Democratic candidates for governor, who often sought the National Rifle Association’s endorsement and touted fiscally conservative policies.

They are echoing many in the party’s base who insisted on that shift. Claudia Colichon, who lives in north Atlanta, said she demands candidates who embrace mass transit funding and fight for gun control.

>> Midterm 2018: What should you do if you are denied the right to vote? Here are some tips

“There needs to be a progressive change,” said Colichon. “People are seeing that conservative policies aren’t working.”

Abrams drew support from Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and a string of other high-profile Democrats and raised about two-thirds of her campaign funds from outside the state. National groups chipped in another $2 million worth of ads supporting her. 

Evans mounted a lower-key campaign focused on local endorsements and smaller gatherings. The election-eve activities highlighted their differences. While Abrams held a large get-out-the-vote rally, Evans slung beers for supporters at an Atlanta bar. 

United and divided 

Both Abrams and Evans united around a host of issues, including expanding Medicaid, growing the medical marijuana program and continuing Deal’s criminal justice overhaul. And both are outspoken opponents of “religious liberty” measures they say amount to state-sponsored discrimination. 

The two attorneys also both were the products of hardscrabble childhoods that shaped their views of government, served together in the state House in their 30s and had up-close views of the tragic toll of substance abuse on their families with siblings who faced legal trouble.

But they’ve clashed on other issues, including how aggressively they oppose the NRA, how they would handle the state’s $26 billion budget and even how they would address Stone Mountain and other Civil War monuments

The biggest policy divide, however, centered on the HOPE scholarship, which provides tuition aid to Georgia college students who maintain a “B” average. 

Evans said Abrams betrayed her party by working with Republicans seeking cost-cutting moves to reduce the program’s awards in 2011. Abrams countered that more “seasoned” Democrats sided with her in that vote because they knew negotiating with the GOP would prevent deeper cuts. 

A new philosophy 

The other central disagreement in the race involved strategy. 

Evans banked on a more conventional Democratic plan to win over independent voters and moderates, particularly suburban women, who have fled to the GOP. Abrams staked her campaign on energizing left-leaning voters, including minorities who rarely cast ballots. 

The two competed for support in an increasingly diverse electorate and at times racial tensions surfaced. 

There was the moment last year when Abrams supporters shouted down Evans at an Atlanta conference of progressive activists with chants of “support black women.” Evans, who is white, drew scorn with a video at Ebenezer Baptist Church that faded her face into the image of Martin Luther King Jr.

For Democrats, the divisive primary for governor was somewhat novel. Jason Carter, the party’s 2014 nominee, faced no Democratic competition. And former Gov. Roy Barnes steamrolled over opposition in 2010 during his failed comeback bid. 

>> Read more trending news 

The party has also largely avoided fierce primary battles between black and white candidates for governor since the 1990 vote, when then-Lt. Gov. Zell Miller trounced former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young. 

Evans, who represented a Smyrna-based district, faced an uphill battle from the moment she entered the race. Black women form the largest bloc of voters in the Democratic primary, and Abrams’ campaign predicted African-American turnout overall could make up 65 percent of the vote. 

To make inroads, Evans staged a slate of smaller rallies and meet-and-greets, and she relied heavily on prominent black officials to spread her message. She also spent far more heavily on TV than Abrams, inundating the airwaves with a HOPE-themed pitch. 

In her victory speech, Abrams moved to unite the party by praising Evans’ supporters. She pledged to repeal a campus carry law, expand the HOPE scholarship, improve workforce training programs and strengthen labor unions. 

And she tried to appeal to more centrist voters by saying she would be the “state’s public education governor” – emphasis on the word “public.” 

“Together we will shape a future with a boundless belief in the historic investment of children who are at the very core of every decision we make,” she said

– AJC staff writer Ariel Hart contributed to this report.

North Carolina city councilwoman's tweet comparing police to terrorists sparks outrage

Several police officers have contacted WSOC-TV in Charlotte, North Carolina, because they are upset about a tweet from Charlotte City Councilwoman Lawana Mayfield.

>> Watch the news report here

The tweet was posted in March, but it’s getting more attention during National Police Week.

>> On WSOCTV.com: City councilwoman won't resign after Facebook post questioning 9/11

"Being black in America under number 45 has created homegrown terrorist wearing blue uniforms," the tweet read.

>> See the tweet here

The tweet came after an officer-involved shooting in Sacramento, California.

An officer shot and killed an unarmed black man while responding to a call about break-ins.

>> Read more trending news 

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department officers said the tweet from Mayfield was inappropriate especially as they are asking the City Council for a pay raise and are trying to recruit more officers.

Mayfield has been criticized for social media posts in the past.

Last month, she shared an article about a conspiracy theory about the 9/11 terrorist attack.

A petition called for her to resign, but she said the post was taken out of context.

Cheesecake Factory: Employees accused of harassing Trump supporter for MAGA hat no longer employed

The Cheesecake Factory says it has suspended a group of employees accused of harassing a customer who wore a "Make America Great Again" hat to one of the company's Miami restaurants.

According to WFOR-TV, Eugene Joseph, 22, said employees at the chain's Dadeland Mall location taunted and threatened him on Mother's Day when they saw his hat bearing President Donald Trump's campaign slogan. 

Joseph, who was at the restaurant with his girlfriend and her family, told WFOR that staffers made insulting comments and tried to intimidate him, saying they'd hit him and knock off his cap. 

>> Read more trending news 

One guest at the table "felt uneasy due to several employees gathering around her table and cracking their knuckles," a Miami-Dade police report said, later adding that "no threats were made and no physical altercation occurred," WFOR reported.

The restaurant chain issued an apology after Joseph's story, initially reported by the Daily Wire, went viral.

"No guest should ever feel unwelcome in one of our restaurants and we are taking this matter very seriously," the statement read. "Upon learning of this incident, we immediately apologized to the guests in person. The individuals involved have been suspended pending the results of our investigation."

>> See the tweet here

Joseph told WFOR that the Cheesecake Factory has not apologized to him personally.

After the suspension, The Cheescake Factory announced that the two employees who made the comments are no longer employed by the company.

It released the following statement from Alethea Row, the restaurant chain’s senior director of Public Relations:

“We were very disappointed to learn that two staff members made disparaging remarks about Mr. Joseph’s hat that made him and his family feel unwelcome. As a result, as of Tuesday those two individuals are no longer employed with the company. No guest should ever feel unwelcome in one of our restaurants and we are very sorry. Our investigation is ongoing and we have reached out to Mr. Joseph directly to ask for his assistance. We are taking this situation seriously, however, not all of the information reported by the media accurately portrays what occurred. The situation may have been exacerbated by an all-staff meeting that took place during our shift change between our staff members working the lunch and dinner shifts – which may have been perceived as a crowd gathering near the guests’ tables. We look forward to speaking with Mr. Joseph to welcome him back into one of our restaurants.”

Read more here.

'Melania' rises in popularity as name for baby girls

Could Melania someday join the likes of Emma and Olivia as one of the top 10 baby names for girls in the U.S.?

>> PHOTOS: Melania Trump through the years

According to the Social Security Administration, Melania saw a dramatic increase in popularity last year, rising from the 1,650th most popular girls' name in 2016 to 930th in 2017. The 720-spot rise in rank was the fifth-largest increase among girls' names last year, falling behind Ensley, Oaklynn, Dream and Oaklyn.

The Associated Press said the surge is "likely influenced by first lady Melania Trump."

>> Read more trending news 

The top 10 baby girls' names in 2017 were Emma, Olivia, Ava, Isabella, Sophia, Mia, Charlotte, Amelia, Evelyn and Abigail, the SSA reported. Meanwhile, Liam topped the list for baby boys, followed by Noah, William, James, Logan, Benjamin, Mason, Elijah, Oliver and Jacob.

Read more here and here.

WATCH: Trump welcomes 3 Americans detained in North Korea back to U.S.

Three Americans detained for more than a year in North Korea were welcomed back to the United States by President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump and other members of the administration at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland early Thursday.

>> MORE: PHOTOS: Trump welcomes 3 Americans detained in North Korea back to U.S. I Trump: 3 Americans released by North Korea | More trending news 

The detainees, identified by The Associated Press as Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim, reportedly were released Wednesday.

After Trump and the detainees briefly spoke to members of the media, the men were taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for treatment, the AP reported.

>> Watch a video of their arrival

Here are the latest updates from the scene:

Update 6:07 a.m. EDT Thursday: President Donald Trump took to Twitter to share a video showing clips from his meeting with three Americans who returned to the U.S. early Thursday after being detained in North Korea.

“On behalf of the American people, WELCOME HOME!” Trump tweeted.

>> Watch the video here

Earlier Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence also tweeted about the detainees’ return.

“Great day to be an American! Because of @POTUS Trump’s strong leadership, tonight we welcomed home three Americans from captivity in North Korea. Honored to be there to say Welcome Home! #GodblessAmerica,” Pence wrote.

>> See the tweet here

Update 3:02 a.m. EDT Thursday: The three freed detainees have exited the plane with President Donald Trump and the first lady. 

“This is a very special night for these really great people,” Trump said to members of the press at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, adding that he “very much appreciates” that North Korea released them.

Trump continued: “I’m very honored to have helped these three folks. They’ve been through a lot. The true honor is going to be if we have a victory in getting rid of nuclear weapons.”

When one detainee was asked how it felt to be back in America, he said, “It’s like a dream.”

Update 2:57 a.m. EDT Thursday: President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump have boarded the plane to speak with the detainees freed by North Korea.

Update 2:44 a.m. EDT Thursday: The plane carrying the American detainees has arrived at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.

Update 2:37 a.m. EDT Thursday: The plane carrying Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has landed at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.

Update 2:23 a.m. EDT Thursday: President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump have arrived at Joint Base Andrews.

Photos: Trump welcomes 3 Americans detained in North Korea back to U.S.

Staging a flag-waving, still-of-the-night arrival ceremony, President Donald Trump early Thursday welcomed home three Americans freed by North Korea and declared their release a sign of promise toward his goal of de-nuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

John McCain's confidantes say Trump won't be invited to his funeral, reports say

Confidantes of Republican Sen. John McCain, whose health has been waning since his brain cancer diagnosis last year, say President Donald Trump will not be invited to his funeral, multiple news outlets are reporting.

>> Sen. John McCain in stable condition after surgery for intestinal infection

The New York Times reported Saturday that McCain's "intimates have informed the White House that their current plan for his funeral is for Vice President Mike Pence to attend the service to be held in Washington’s National Cathedral but not President Trump, with whom Mr. McCain has had a rocky relationship."

>> Read more trending news 

Later Saturday, NBC News published a similar report, claiming that McCain, 81, "does not want" Trump at the service. 

>> Sen. John McCain diagnosed with brain cancer, statement says

Two former presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, are planning to speak at the memorial, NBC News reported.

Read more here or here.

WATCH: Stormy Daniels makes surprise appearance in 'SNL' cold open

Adult film star Stormy Daniels made a surprise appearance on "Saturday Night Live" in the show's latest jab at President Donald Trump.

>> Watch the clip here (WARNING: Viewer discretion advised.)

Daniels – who claims she had sex with Trump in 2006 and received $130,000 from his attorney, Michael Cohen, as part of a nondisclosure agreement – played herself in the show's cold open, which also featured guest stars Ben Stiller as Cohen, Martin Short as former Trump physician Harold Bornstein, Scarlett Johansson as Ivanka Trump and Jimmy Fallon as Jared Kushner.

>> Giuliani: Trump reimbursed attorney Michael Cohen for $130K Stormy Daniels payment

In the sketch, Alec Baldwin's Trump and Stiller's Cohen chatted on the phone with several administration officials and associates – notably, Kate McKinnon as Rudy Giuliani – before calling Daniels.

"C'mon, Stormy, quit making such a big deal about this," Baldwin, as Trump, said. "Everyone knows it's just an act."

>> Trump confirms Cohen represented him in 'crazy Stormy Daniels deal'

"I work in adult films. We're not really known for our acting," Daniels quipped.

"Just tell me, what do you need for this to all go away," Baldwin's Trump asked.

"A resignation," Daniels said.

Later, Baldwin's Trump wondered out loud: "I solved North and South Korea, but can I solve us?"

>> Read more trending news 

Daniels' reply?

"Sorry, Donald, it's too late for that," she said. "I know you don't believe in climate change, but a storm's a-coming, baby."

Giuliani: President reimbursed Cohen for $130K Stormy Daniels payment

President Donald Trump repaid personal attorney Michael Cohen for an October 2016 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels as part of a nondisclosure agreement, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told Fox News' Sean Hannity in a televised interview late Wednesday.

>> Read more trending news 

Update 3:10 p.m. EDT May 3: White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday that she didn’t learn that President Donald Trump reimbursed his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, for a payment he made to adult film star Stormy Daniels until Wednesday.

“As Mayor Giuliani stated, and I’ll refer you back to his comments, this was information that the president didn’t know at the time but eventually learned,” she said Thursday at a news briefing.

The press secretary had previously said that officials were unaware of payments made by Cohen to Daniels.

“The first awareness I had was during the interview last night,” Huckabee Sanders said. “The president has denied and continues to deny the underlying claim.”

Daniels has said that she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006, after she met him at a celebrity golf tournament. Cohen paid her $130,000 days before the 2016 election in exchange for her silence on the alleged affair. Trump previously denied any knowledge of the payment. 

Daniels has sued to break the non-disclosure agreement, claiming it wasn’t valid because it wasn’t signed by Trump.

Update, 6:48 a.m. EDT Thursday: President Donald Trump took to Twitter early Thursday to weigh in on the latest revelations in the Stormy Daniels scandal after Rudy Giuliani, now a member of his legal team, spoke to Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Wednesday. 

Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, “received a monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign, from which he entered into, through reimbursement, a private contract between two parties, known as a nondisclosure agreement, or NDA. These agreements are very common among celebrities and people of wealth. In this case it is in full force and effect and will be used in Arbitration for damages against Ms. Clifford (Daniels). The agreement was used to stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her about an affair despite already having signed a detailed letter admitting that there was no affair. Prior to its violation by Ms. Clifford and her attorney, this was a private agreement. Money from the campaign, or campaign contributions, played no roll [sic] in this transaction.”

ORIGINAL STORY: President Donald Trump repaid personal attorney Michael Cohen for an October 2016 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels as part of a nondisclosure agreement, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told Fox News' Sean Hannity in a televised interview late Wednesday.

>> Watch the segment here

Giuliani, who recently joined Trump's legal team, told Hannity that the $130,000 payment to Daniels, who signed the agreement to keep quiet about an alleged 2006 affair with Trump, "is going to turn out to be perfectly legal."

>> Jamie Dupree: Giuliani admits Trump repaid Cohen for $130,000 Stormy Daniels payment

"That money was not campaign money," Giuliani said. "Sorry, I'm giving you a fact now that you don't know: It's not campaign money, no campaign finance violation."

"They funneled it through a law firm," Hannity said.

"Funneled it through a law firm and the president repaid it," Giuliani replied.

"Oh, I didn't know he did," Hannity said.

>> Trump attorney Ty Cobb resigns; replaced by Emmet Flood

Giuliani added that Trump "didn't know about the specifics of it, as far as I know, but he did know about the general arrangement that Michael would take care of things like this." 

Later Wednesday, Giuliani told The Washington Post that he didn't know when Trump found out about the payment, adding that Trump only recently became aware of some details.

>> Stormy Daniels on '60 Minutes': 5 revelations from the interview

"I don't know if he distinguished it from other things Cohen might have done for him during the campaign," Giuliani told the Post.

According to Cox Media Group Washington correspondent Jamie Dupree, Trump previously told reporters that he didn't know about Cohen's payment to Daniels, who now claims that the agreement is invalid and also is suing Trump for defamation.

On April 5, aboard Air Force One, Trump was asked directly by reporters about the matter.

“Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?” one reporter asked.

"No," Trump replied.

According to The Associated Press, “the payment to Daniels has raised numerous legal questions, including whether it was an illegal campaign contribution and, now, loan.”

Read more here.

– Cox Media Group Washington correspondent Jamie Dupree and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Holding your phone while driving will soon be illegal in Georgia

Georgia's governor is expected to sign a new distracted driving bill Wednesday.

>> Watch the news report here

The law will make it illegal to hold your phone while you're driving.

Gov. Nathan Deal won't be signing that bill at the Capitol. Deal will do it in Statesboro, home of Georgia Southern University. That's where five nursing students killed in a highway crash went to school.

“Don’t view this as a hostile act by the state government,” Deal said. “It is an act to protect the safety of anyone.”

WSB-TV’s Aaron Diamant spoke exclusively with the parents of one of those women. They fought for the law they say will save lives.

Craig and Kathy Clark of Cobb County will be in Statesboro to mark the milestone.

“This is something that's coming out of a horrific situation,” Craig Clark said.

MORE FROM WSBTV.COM:

>> Georgia governor says he plans to sign hands-free bill

>> Georgia lawmakers pushing new ‘hands-free driving' bill

>> Put your phone down: Georgia could soon be a hands-free state

>> Another Cobb County city looks to ban hand-held cellphone use while driving

>> City votes to ban cellphones while driving

>> Lawmaker pre-files bill banning drivers from talking on cell phones without hands-free device

Emily Clark was one of the nursing students who died in the 2015 wreck after a tractor-trailer hit the girl’s SUV while it was stopped in traffic on I-16 eastbound. 

“To take a life, I don’t know how someone could live with themselves just because they were looking at a text message or talking on the phone and was distracted,” Kathy Clark said.

The new law will make it illegal for drivers to hold a phone while driving.

“Taking your eyes off the roads for those few seconds mean the difference between life and death,” Craig Clark said.

>> Read more trending news 

Truck driver John Wayne Johnson is serving a five-year prison sentence for vehicular homicide, and the trucking company paid out tens of millions of dollars in settlements to the families of those who died. The two survivors, including Megan Richards of Loganville, were awarded $15 million after a 2017 trial. 

“If you can say that that this saves one life, then everything that we went through and hoped for could be well worth it,” Kathy Clark said.

The law will go into effect July 1, 2018, and will impose stiff fines for offenders.

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