AGAINST THE GRAIN

The Battle for the Soul of the Democratic Party

The governor’s race in Georgia will test whether a proudly progressive platform will win over voters in a traditionally Republican state.

Then-Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams speaks during the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 25, 2016.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Josh Kraushaar
Add to Briefcase
Josh Kraushaar
Dec. 5, 2017, 4:20 p.m.

Of all the elections taking place next year, none will be more instructive in laying out the future of the Democratic Party than a showdown between two women vying to break the GOP’s stranglehold in Georgia politics. The two Democrats running for the state’s governorship are both named Stacey, they served together in the state legislature, and they boast inspiring stories of overcoming hardship to achieve professional success.

But the two compelling candidates—former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and former state Rep. Stacey Evans—have dramatically different views on what it will take for Democrats to win in a diversifying Southern state where the party has struggled badly. The race has become a tactical proxy war between Democrats who believe it’s most important to win over swing suburbanites against those who believe that the party’s priority should be mobilizing its progressive base.

Abrams is vying to be the first African-American woman elected governor in the country, and she is explicitly arguing that she can win in the South with a rainbow coalition of African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and progressive whites. Evans believes that she’s better positioned to get the support of Republican-leaning moderates who have emerged as being up for grabs in the Trump era.

“I could do better in a midterm election by turning out more of our voters,” Abrams told National Journal. “We have taken for granted the idea of mobilizing base voters. The challenge is getting them to believe that voting matters.” Countered Evans: “We cannot be afraid to talk to people who might not agree with us; we have to persuade. I can do that.”

There aren’t many glaring policy differences between the two candidates. Evans has attacked Abrams over a bipartisan education deal she struck with the state’s GOP governor that ended up trimming benefits from the state’s signature Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally scholarship program. In response, Abrams slammed Evans for supporting legislation expanding access to charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools. Abrams casts her opponent as a mere backbencher under her leadership in the state House. “I appreciate that she thinks she’s ready for this job,” Abrams said with a dose of sarcasm.

Abrams has drawn early endorsements from EMILY’s List and NARAL Pro-Choice America, making her a favorite of progressive activists around the country. A recent profile of Abrams in Cosmopolitan leads with her goal of running for president sometime in the future, prompting Evans to quip to National Journal that she has no interest in a presidential campaign if she wins.

Abrams pointed to the unsuccessful statewide candidacies of moderate whites in recent years—from Michelle Nunn to Jason Carter to Roy Barnes—as proof that the party needs to take a different approach. But she’s betting something even riskier: that Southern red-state voters will back an African-American candidate running as an unapologetic progressive. Abrams’s strategists struggled to identify any other Democrat in the country who won in a red state with the rainbow coalition that she’s banking on.

Barack Obama boosted black turnout in Georgia in 2008 and 2012, but he didn’t come close to winning the state. Hillary Clinton poured resources into Georgia hoping to turn it blue, but still lost to Donald Trump by 5 points. Most surprisingly, a sizable minority of the state’s Hispanic (38 percent) and Asian-American voters (44 percent) backed Trump, according to an analysis from the liberal Center for American Progress. That complicates Abrams’s belief that mobilizing minorities will carry her to victory.

By contrast, Evans is taking a page from the Clinton playbook. Her introductory campaign video details her rough-and-tumble childhood when she was raised by a single mom (a la Bill), while making a gendered appeal as a trailblazing candidate (a la Hillary). Former Clinton campaign strategist Paul Begala is one of her stalwart supporters; he held a fundraiser for her last month.

The wave of Democratic energy around the country should make the Georgia gubernatorial race competitive, whoever wins the primary. For a candidate like Abrams testing out a new political strategy, 2018 is shaping up to be a best-case political environment to ride an anti-Trump wave. If she prevails, she’ll pave the way for a diverse lineup of liberals to run in critical statewide races. But if she falls short, it would show how hard it is to sell authentic progressivism outside the movement’s coastal enclaves.

“If she doesn’t win in a really good environment, you’d have to say the South wasn’t quite ready; she was a candidate before her time,” said Abrams pollster Fred Yang. “But the time is coming—whether it’s 2018 or 2022 or 2024, it’s coming.”

What We're Following See More »
TO CLOSE TEST SITES
North Korea Says It Will Suspend Nuclear Tests
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

"North Korea says it has suspended nuclear and long-range missile tests and plans to close its nuclear test site. The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said the suspension of nuclear and ICBM tests went into effect Saturday." The announcement comes shortly before Kim Jong Un "is set to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in in a border truce village for a rare summit aimed at resolving the nuclear standoff with Pyongyang."

Source:
FOSTER FREISS TO MAKE ANNOUNCEMENT TODAY
GOP Megadonor Running For Governor In Wyoming
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Republican megadonor Foster Friess has told party leaders in Wyoming that he plans to run for governor," and is expected to make an announcement this afternoon. Friess has donated "millions of dollars to Republican candidates and causes over the last decade, according to federal campaign finance records," including over "$1.7 million to boost Santorum's [presidential] campaign" in 2016. Gov. Matt Mead (R) is term-limited, and "a handful of Republicans are running in an open primary to succeed him in one of the reddest states in the country."

Source:
DEATH TOLL REACHES 38
Israeli Army Kills Four Palestinian Protestors
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

Four Palestinian protestors have been killed by Israeli fire near the Gaza-Israel border, bringing the death toll to 38, in what marks the "fourth consecutive week of Gaza's March of Return mass protests." The marches are part of a "month-and-a-half-long protest organized by Hamas near the border fence," which organizers have said will not stop before May 15. The marches are intended to emulate anti-apartheid protests in South Africa, and to commemorate the forced expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in 1948, during the establishment of the State of Israel.

Source:
NO TIMELINE SET
McCabe To Sue For Wrongful Termination, Defamation
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe is looking to sue for defamation, wrongful termination and other possible civil claims, his lawyer told reporters Friday." McCabe's attorney Michael Bromwich said that his team "hasn't managed to find any witnesses to corroborate McCabe's version of the story," although they have not had enough time to do so. "McCabe’s lawyers are also seeking ways to release the emails between McCabe and Comey, which would offer insight into their communication about the leaks to the Wall Street Journal."

Source:
SEEKS COMPENSATORY DAMAGES
DNC Files Sweeping Lawsuit Over 2016 Election
8 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

"The Democratic National Committee filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit Friday against the Russian government, the Trump campaign and the WikiLeaks organization alleging a far-reaching conspiracy to disrupt the 2016 campaign and tilt the election to Donald Trump. The complaint, filed in federal district court in Manhattan, alleges that top Trump campaign officials conspired with the Russian government and its military spy agency to hurt Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and help Trump by hacking the computer networks of the Democratic Party and disseminating stolen material found there." The DNC is seeking "millions of dollars in compensation to offset damage it claims the party suffered from the hacks," and is arguing the cyberattack" undermined its ability to communicate with voters, collect donations and operate effectively as its employees faced personal harassment and, in some cases, death threats."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login