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Tuesday, May 01, 2018


Early voting opens in Georgia

by Tom Sullivan

Georgia State Capitol. Photo by Ken Lund, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Any candidate running a campaign based on conventional wisdom in the Trump era might want to have her/his head examined. Yet many professional Democrats still bet their political fortunes on it.

Four states hold primaries a week from now: Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia. Early voting for Georgia's primary begins today. The primary itself falls on May 22, the same day as Texas’s Seventh Congressional District runoff between DCCC-backed Lizzie Pannill Fletcher and Democratic opponent Laura Moser.

Democrats at the highest levels have written the book on failed campaign strategies, and this Texas race follows in that tradition. Both are, writes Charlie Pierce, "perfectly fine candidates, both women, and the DCCC somehow has turned this into a problem." Ahead of the primary, the DCCC released an opposition report on Moser, the progressive activist behind Daily Action. The tactic backfired and Moser forced Fletcher into a runoff.

Stacey Abrams, former minority leader of the Georgia House, leads her Democratic opponent in the race for governor, Stacey Evans, by nearly 20 points. On a string of issues, Evans and Abrams share similar positions. But Evans, a white attorney from the Atlanta suburbs and current member of the Georgia House of Representatives, believes “you are going to have to persuade some moderate Republicans to vote for you, if you are going to win in Georgia.”

Pursuing Republican crossover votes was not a winning strategy for Jon Ossoff in the GA-6 special election. But Ossoff, another DCCC advisee, contested a smaller slice of Georgia than Abrams and Evans will. Abrams is following a strategy counter to conventional Democratic wisdom.

Aimee Allison, president of Democracy in Color, explains in a New York Times op-ed:

From the beginning of the race, the state Democratic Party had its eyes fixed on winning white swing voters, including those who voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Some are arguing that white voters are the best way to close the roughly 215,000-vote gap that has kept Democrats out of the governor’s mansion for the last decade. Perhaps that’s the reason that party leaders recruited the millionaire Democrat Stacey Evans to run against Ms. Abrams. The Evans effort is focused on appealing to white voters as necessary and sufficient to win. Georgia Democrats have drawn from this playbook many times, including the failed candidacies of Michelle Nunn for Senate and Jason Carter’s own failure at a run for governor.

The numbers and the history show the folly of that approach. By insisting on the strategy of appealing to white Republican and moderate voters, Democrats have lost over and over again with a population that is nearly a majority of people of color — specifically, voters of color who make up nearly half of the Democratic Party membership in Georgia and nationally. Even casual observations of these numbers and trends would indicate that Democrats do not need to persuade a single Trump voter to win.
Abrams is working to activate 1.2 million unregistered voters in Georgia, 700,000 outside metro Atlanta, and black women, reliable Democratic voters, drive the effort. If she succeeds, Allison writes, Abrams’s strategy could become a template for Democrats winning in other Republican strongholds. Abrams would be the first African-American woman in the nation to become governor.

Not without critics, Abrams is accused of being too quick to compromise with Republicans. Lee Fang writes at The Intercept that Abrams as minority leader in 2015 signed off on Republican redistricting maps that diluted black voting strength. Lacking detailed information about the bill, every House Democrat (including Evans) voted for the maps following Abrams's lead. Now Democrats are fighting those same maps in court and Republicans are using her support as a defense.

But what may matter in the end is whose electoral strategy delivers.

FiveThirtyEight sees weaknesses in both:
It’s unclear who has the right theory, but both approaches have clear challenges. No Democrat has won a gubernatorial, U.S. Senate or presidential contest in Georgia since Zell Miller was elected senator there in 2000. So it’s hard to see Evans wooing enough Republicans to win — no other Democrat running for a major office has in almost 20 years. At the same time, Georgia has enough minorities and urbanites for Democrats to almost win there but not enough to get over the hump, so Abrams’s path looks perilous as well.
But Abrams is running a nontraditional campaign. That in itself may provide more opportunity than peril in the age of Trump. She invested heavily and early in on-the-ground organizing rather than in TV ads. She has saved that for the sprint. Her polling lead may indicate her approach has more advantages than downsides.

Allison writes, "The Abrams idea — that black women leading a multiracial bloc of voters will establish a new base — may also revolutionize American electoral politics."

First she has to win.

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For The Win 2018 is ready for download. Request a copy of my county-level election mechanics primer at tom.bluecentury at gmail.