Contrary to the media hype, Democrats are not going to win the Governor’s Mansion in Georgia this year barring scandal on the Republican side. The numbers are not there demographically. But the Democratic primary for Governor of Georgia is the most important election in America for the time being and it happens today.
The race pits two Staceys against each other: Abrams and Evans. This race is the most important because it will define the future of the Democratic coalition and Democrats look like they’re about to bet on the losing coalition even if it might be a short term winner nationally.
Stacey Abrams is the former House Minority Leader in the Georgia State House. She is reliably progressive, though has shown herself able to cut practical deals with Republicans. She has, admirably, professed her refusal to run as a progressive in the primary and as a moderate in the general. Instead, she says her positions will benefit the blue collar white voter alienated from the Democratic Party. She wants to persuade those voters to turn back to the Democrats on her terms.
Abrams is tied to a variety of leftwing groups, including the Democracy Alliance, which supports the confiscation of guns and slave reparations. Abrams does not support those positions, but the Democracy Alliance supports her as do Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and a host of other left wingers. Abrams’ campaign team has also been willing to make race an issue. Her opponent, Stacey Evans, was shouted down by protesters at Netroots Nation, held in Atlanta last year, because Evans is white. Abrams’ supporters have suggested more than once that Evans is running solely to stop the Abrams, who is black. Surrogates for the Abrams camp have explicitly made race and issue and seek to play it up every time Evans tries to mitigate it as an issue.
Evans, for her part, is a reliable social liberal, like Abrams. But Evans has a story to tell the white voters in Georgia who voted for Obama then voted for Trump. Evans was raised by a single mother who still works at a truck stop. Evans moved from house to house living in poverty. She got a Hope scholarship and became a successful lawyer. Evans has made funding the Hope scholarship in Georgia her central campaign issue. The scholarship used to pay for college educations for most students with good grades in Georgia, but over the years it has covered less and less. Evans blames Abrams for siding with the GOP on a deal to reform and restrict Hope. Abrams and the GOP say that the program would have run out of cash had they not intervened. They’re right, but Evans has an emotionally resonate campaign pitch about the program.
The Democrats in Georgia are fighting over their future coalition. Abrams represents the progressive wing that will rally highly educated, white, secular voters and minorities. Evans believes the Democrats needs to make an argument to blue collar voters beyond “trust us.” Evans recognizes Democrats cannot go so far left as to alienate would be Democratic voters who are white. Abrams is ready to blow past them and then tell them her ideas will help them, even if they culturally and socially oppose her issues and values.
The Democrats in Georgia are going left. They will go with a candidate whose supporters tried to prevent a white woman from talking because she was not black. They will go with a candidate who has reliable support from the far left of the Democratic Party. Abrams, herself, is actually a great candidate who defends her positions admirably. But it won’t matter. Given those who support her and the groups she has aligned with, she has given the GOP all sorts of ammunition to pre-empt any of those voters Evans wants back from ever voting Democrat.
In urban areas, the Abrams coalition will work well for Democrats moving forward. But it is going to marginalize them in rural and suburban areas where liberals fancy themselves moderate. 2018 will not be the year Democrats win Georgia. But it will be the year the decide to leave blue collar white voters behind.