Georgia On My Mind

[ Posted Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018 – 17:29 UTC ]

Last night, Stacey Abrams moved one step closer to making history, by easily defeating Stacey Evans in the Democratic primary for governor in the state of Georgia. If she can manage an upset win in November, she will become the first African-American woman governor in American history. So it would be a big milestone not only for the voters of Georgia, but nationwide.

This has touched off a round of speculation about the race, centered on whether Abrams can actually win or not, in such a red state so deep in the South. From where I sit, though, she seems to have a pretty good chance at doing so (although it is by no means guaranteed).

So far, most of this speculation has neatly fit into the punditocracy's preferred 2018 Democratic storyline, that of: "lefties versus the establishment." Seen through this lens, Abrams was the lefty candidate, while her opponent (who is white) was the establishment candidate. In reality, their political views aren't all that far apart, but whatever. What's really sending the pundits into a tizzy is Abrams actively trying to enthuse the Democratic base rather than focusing on wooing over fence-sitting independent voters. This fits another favorite storyline of the press, that of: "woo white moderates back to the Democratic Party versus fire up the base." In reality, you can do both, but again: whatever. In Georgia, seeing the race through this lens means seeing it as: "woo wealthy suburban white voters" or "fire up the African-American base."

Here is one example of this analysis, from today's Washington Post:

[Stacey Abrams's] candidacy is also going to test one of Democrats' defining debates of 2018: Do the continue to try to reach out to moderate and swing voters in a state like Georgia? Or do they prioritize their resources toward motivating their base and base-like nonvoters, which could come at the expense of reaching out to swing voters?

There are indications Abrams will chose the latter approach. She campaigned in the primary on expanding Medicaid and voting rights, two solidly Democratic issues. Annie Weinberg, electoral director with the grass roots group Democracy For America, worked with the Abrams campaign and said they are planning to target voters of color in a way past Democratic campaigns have not.

"There is a pool of overwhelmingly white, affluent ticket-splitting voters that cycle after cycle many Democratic candidates have prioritized above anyone else. And that hasn't worked," she said. "The new American majority -- including voters of color -- many of them have never had a statewide campaign to prioritize their needs and values."

To win, Abrams will need to find more than 200,000 more voters than the Democratic candidate did in 2014. Democrats think they can do this by mobilizing some of the 1 million people of color who did not vote in the 2016 presidential election.

But getting those people to pay attention to the race, let alone vote for Abrams will require a herculean effort on Democrats' part. They will need to build a voter registration and get-out-the-vote campaign to reach hundreds of thousands of Georgia residents who normally either tune out in the midterm elections or just do not participate.

Abrams, though, already has several things going right which should improve her chances of winning. While she won a decisive primary victory, no Republican emerged with enough votes from their primary to avoid a runoff election. So the top two Republicans are going to spend the next month viciously attacking each other, while Abrams is free to focus on her general election campaign. That's a huge advantage, right there. Abrams has also already notably enthused the party's rank and file voters -- turnout last night was up a whopping 50 percent over the last Democratic primary for governor, four years ago. So Abrams hits the ground running with the crowd cheering her on while the two GOP candidates try to outdo each other on who can be nastiest to immigrants.

But in that article above, even though they quote that 50 percent figure, there is a rather large disconnect. Notice the grammatical tense used in the last paragraph from that excerpt. It speaks of the effort Abrams will need as if it will happen solely in the future. This sells the Abrams campaign short, which I can attest to from personal knowledge.

Roughly one year ago, the annual Netroots Nation lefty conclave took place in Atlanta. While there was some sober self-reflection (served up by Jon Ossoff, who had massively disappointed a lot of national Democrats in his loss), there was also plenty of forward-looking enthusiasm. And a lot of it came from Stacey Abrams herself, who appeared on multiple occasions throughout the conference.

I must admit I was incredibly impressed with Abrams as a speaker. Even in a gathering of lefties, she stood out. Abrams and one other candidate (Randy "Iron 'Stache" Bryce, who is running to defeat Paul Ryan in his home district) were the best orators in the entire conference, in my opinion. They knew how to talk politics in language that everyone can easily understand. Their own personal enthusiasm was infectious -- the crowds they spoke to returned that enthusiasm vigorously. They both, in a word, have charisma. And positive charisma goes a long way in politics.

But it wasn't her ability to fire up a crowd that was the most memorable thing about hearing Abrams speak, it was instead what she said. Her platform was solidly progressive, but even that's not what I'm talking about. In one speech Abrams gave, she detailed the efforts already under way to register one million new (and mostly African-American) voters in Georgia. According to her, this effort had already signed up hundreds of thousands of new black voters -- and this was a full year ago. I don't imagine she's slacked off in this effort in the meantime.

So rather than beginning from scratch, as the article above assumes ("They will need to build a voter registration and get-out-the-vote campaign..."), this effort was already productively underway a year ago, and had already achieved a degree of success even back then. Maybe that's where that turnout bump of 50 percent came from in the primaries?

Abrams noted that Georgia in general and Atlanta in specific is in the midst of seeing a rather large migration of African-Americans into the state. The demographics aren't just changing in Georgia, they have already changed. Atlanta is seen as a cosmopolitan city that welcomes African-Americans, and they've been moving there over the past decade or so in large numbers as a direct result. Those are precisely the voters Abrams has targeted with her registration and get-out-the-vote efforts. Which seems to already be paying off.

So the question really should be whether Abrams can continue to both sign up new voters and enthuse them enough that they actually vote, not whether she can successfully begin such an effort. This, obviously, still remains to be seen. But she won't be building from scratch -- far from it. She's still got a long way to go, admittedly. Democrats haven't been a force in Georgia politics for over two decades, so a lot of work still remains to be done.

There's one final aspect of the Georgia race that hasn't really gotten much examination yet -- how historic an Abrams win would be. She wouldn't just be the first African-American governor of Georgia, she would be the first in all of American history. That is going to convince a lot of African-American voters who normally don't participate in midterm elections that it is worth it this time to get out and vote. Barack Obama saw a huge increase in turnout in the African-American vote, for obvious reasons. But the possibility of electing the first black woman into a governor's office may prove to be almost as exciting a prospect in Georgia as electing a first black president. Elections-watchers have already credited, in large account, the female African-American vote for defeating Roy Moore in Alabama, so this demographic can indeed be decisive in a close race in the Deep South.

It is too early to speculate on the chances of Stacey Abrams making history in November, at least for me. Many things could happen between now and then. But after seeing her (and her opponent, Stacey Evans) speak last year at Netroots Nation, I already believe she is the best candidate possible to attempt such a feat. Abrams could even have "coattails" down the ballot -- she might help propel other Democratic candidates in Georgia to victory as well, if she does pull off an upset. After all, there are House districts in Georgia (like the one Ossoff lost) which could easily be in play if there's a big Democratic turnout this fall.

Of course, even if she does win, close analysis of what put Abrams over the top might get lost in all the other post-election stories (especially if it's a big night for Democrats). Even if the Abrams win is big news, some might draw the wrong conclusions. But my guess is that if Abrams does emerge victorious, it will not be so much which side of the "progressive versus establishment" divide she falls on and it will not be because there is a nationwide blue wave election. If Stacey Adams does win, it will likely be because she did it the old-fashioned way -- by tirelessly pounding the pavement to sign up people to vote, and by then convincing them that she is definitely worth voting for. Personally, if I lived in Georgia, I would already be convinced.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


8 Comments on “Georgia On My Mind”

  1. [1] 
    Paula wrote:

    Its great to read an optimistic take on a Dem's chances, especially one based on stuff-actually-happening (her ongoing GOTV efforts) versus theoreticals.

    It will be a thrill if she wins.

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Sorry for an off topic question but, I have been listening tonight, off and on, to a CNN town hall with Nancy Pelosi and am left wondering if she is a benefit or a detriment to Democrats' chances of winning elections.

    She strikes me as the quintessential "talking point" pol- no offense to FTP columns which are highly intelligent and eloquent - who comes across as not being able to fully explain herself or saying something that is completely tone deaf.

    I know she's been around for a long time but, I'm thinking its time for new leadership. In the promo for this event she says that she's worth the trouble.

    These days, no one is worth that much trouble!

  3. [3] 
    Paula wrote:

    [2] Elizabeth: Nancy Pelosi is unparalleled at working with her caucus and counting votes. She gets Dems to put up or shut up when it counts, unlike Ryan, who sets up votes that go down in ignominious defeat.

    She inspires a lot of women. GOP goes after her precisely because she's good at her job. And there is no effective Dem that will not be slandered by the right and their slanders will become conventional wisdom to many.

    I'm seeing a bunch of responses to her town hall on twitter that are very complimentary.

    She, alone, will not save the day re: the DT disaster. But I'm glad she's on our side. And if there are other leaders in the wings who might be better I'm quite sure they'll find a way to shine. She'll be up for a vote again and it's up to the other Dems to decide whether her time is past. We'll see.

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Well, she's not very good at explaining things and Democrats need to be unparalleled at explaining things, these days.

    I found her town hall tonight to be quite unbearable. Maybe she improved but I could only stand watching the first half.

    Democrats need to up their game like they've never had to up their game before. That means leaders who are capable of explaining themselves and of persuading voters of all political stripes. Pelosi ain't that Democrat.

  5. [5] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    My biggest fear concerning Georgia’s elections is their continued use of electronic voting booths that offer no physical copy of voting results. It won’t matter how many voters Abrams is able to rally if the machines are rigged.

    I never would have believed that we’d get to the point in this country where we would actually need to worry about one party being willing to go to such great lengths to steal an election from the people — but, alas, HERE WE ARE!

  6. [6] 
    Kick wrote:


    Very well said. :)

  7. [7] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    LizM [2] -

    Sad but true, Nancy (1) brings in a whole bunch of money, and (2) can herd cats successfully. That is her value.

    I love Nancy, and I hope she regains the speaker's gavel, serves one term, and then gracefully steps down. Seriously, she's owed the return of the queen moment, but then after that, she is getting a wee bit old and less able to enter the fray with anything more than stock talking points. But I have to still admire her ability to hold the Dem caucus together in the House -- better than anyone since Tip O'Neill, probably. So she still does have some solid value, IMHO.


  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    If I was an American voter, she would turn me off.

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