(Excerpt for CDT. For full article click here)
Last night, Stacey Abrams took a big step towards fulfilling that potential in the South by winning the Georgia gubernatorial Democratic nomination. The implications of her win for progressive politics and the future of the country are revolutionary in terms of political strategy and approach.
What Jesse Jackson foreshadowed in 1988, Barack Obama accomplished in 2008 and again in 2012, when he won reelection despite garnering 5 million fewer white votes than he had secured in 2008. In the wake of the 2016 election, however, many Democrats have lost their nerve, and, in too many cases, lost their minds, allocating millions of dollars to the fool’s errand of securing support from the very voters who hated our first black president and everything he represented. The significance of Abrams’s candidacy is that she has stayed the course, and in doing so provided empirical evidence about how to win in a highly polarized, racially charged political environment.
Equally important as which voters to target is the question of how to attract that support. What Abrams is proving is that the way to increase voter turnout is by inspiring progressives, not coddling moderates and conservatives. Towards that end, she has unapologetically championed progressive causes that many Democrats continue to tiptoe away from. While consultants propound anachronistic notions of distancing candidates from “special interest” groups and “identity politics,” Abrams unequivocally embraced the whole litany of constituencies and causes that comprise the stripes of the modern-day rainbow coalition. She publicly and repeatedly expressed solidarity with and welcomed support from LGBTQ groups, labor unions, pro-choice groups, and gun-control advocates. She even explicitly condemned white-supremacist Confederate monuments.
In addition to the obvious upside in increasing turnout of voters of color, Abrams is showing that she knows that there are more progressive whites than many people realize. Especially in light of the resistance to Trump, Democratic voter turnout is up in previously conservative-voting congressional districts, and those reenergized progressive whites can help pick up crucial seats in Georgia, as well as help capture the governor’s mansion.
Smart investors look at trends, where things are going, not where they were. The plain truth of the matter is that every single day, America—and Georgia—gets browner by the hour. It will cost about $10 million to mobilize the 230,000 previously uninspired voters of color required to close the gap in Georgia. The question and the challenge for the progressive movement is will they put their money where their mouth is? Progressives nationally moved upwards of $40 million to Elizabeth Warren’s 2012 Senate campaign and Wendy Davis’s Texas gubernatorial bid in 2014. Will there be similar enthusiasm and support for Abrams? If so, we can make history and fulfill the promise of what Georgia native Martin Luther King Jr. predicted when he said, “Give us the ballot, and we will transform the South.” In addition, we can make history by electing Abrams as our nation’s first-ever black woman governor.