Last month, the world witnessed something that had never been done before in the history of politics in the United States.
Not only did Democratic voters in Georgia elect a 44-year-old African-American candidate as the first-ever Black gubernatorial nominee in the state, they also made history by electing the first Black woman to be a major party nominee for governor in the United States.
That’s right — former Georgia House Minority Leader and attorney Stacey Abrams soundly defeated her opponent, former state Rep. Stacey Evans, with an overwhelming 53 percent landslide victory; Abrams won 76.5 percent of the vote compared to Evans’ 23.5 percent. Abrams will face off against the winner of the Republican primary runoff election that will be held in July between Georgia’s Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp.
While much of the political conversation around the country has been focused on the success of women candidates as a whole, one of the primary reasons for Abrams’ dominant showing in the Democratic primary was the high turnout of Black voters, particularly Black women voters.
The convincing victory by Abrams, a rising star in the Democratic Party, has created a significant amount of chatter in political circles about the growing success Black women candidates are having across the country, particularly in a deep southern state like Georgia that hasn’t had a Democratic governor since 2003.
“I am a proud daughter of the Deep South,” Abrams said during her victory speech after winning the Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nomination. “To claim our victory, to write that next chapter and live those best lives, we have a lot of work to do. We have to reach out to those who do not believe their voices matter. Who have been disappointed again and again by promises made and never kept…With your help, we will register every last person we know.
“And we’re going to search out those we don’t know yet and prove they matter to us, too,” she said. “In the Book of Esther, there’s a verse that reminds us that we were born for such a time as this. And now is a time to defend our values and protect the vulnerable — to stand in the gap and to lead the way … that is what we will continue to do — all the way to victory in November.”
A victory by Abrams in November would truly be a game-changer relative to politics, as we know it, in the Deep South and across the country.
Prior to 2003, no Republican had ever served as governor in Georgia since Reconstruction. Republican George “Sonny” Perdue III changed that after he was elected and then sworn in on January 13, 2003. Perdue served until 2011, and the governorship in Georgia has remained in Republican control ever since.
Then, if you take a look at the rest of the Deep South, which consists of states like Texas, Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana, each of those states currently has a Republican governor at the helm, with the exception of Louisiana, where former Democratic state legislator John Bel Edwards was sworn in as governor in 2016.
Abrams has a chance to change the overall landscape of politics as we know it, but it will take more than having her name on the ballot as the Democratic nominee in Georgia to make that a reality — it will require engaging existing Black voters and focusing on getting newly registered Black voters to the polls in November.
Abrams has adopted a strategy focused on registering new Black voters and engaging more Blacks to come out to the polls and vote in November 2018 than came out in 2014, when only 40 percent of African Americans went to the polls in Georgia, compared to roughly 48 percent of Whites.
If recent history is any indication, the only way the tides will turn in the favorable direction Democrats hope for relative to the key gubernatorial seats that are up for grabs in battleground states this November, is if there is a heavy Black voter turnout — something the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) has been focused on in 2018.
The NNPA, a trade group that represents over 200 Black-owned media companies across the U.S., recently launched an initiative to encourage 5 million new, Black voters to register to vote before the midterm elections, with the hopes of ensuring candidates like Abrams cross the finish line victoriously.
“The NNPA views the electoral victory of Stacey Abrams as the Democratic candidate for Governor of Georgia as one of the most important political advances for the interests of Black America, since President Barack H. Obama was elected,” said Dr. Benjamin Chavis Jr., president and CEO of the NNPA. “In particular, Black women are now the effective vanguard in statewide and local elections across the U.S. The win by Abrams in Georgia is also timely as the NNPA has called upon 5 million more Black Americans to register to vote before the November 2018 midterm elections.”
Abrams will need that increase in Black voter turnout to add her name to the list of Black women, who are changing the landscape of politics across the country.
According to a recent report by the Higher Heights Leadership Fund and the Center for American Women and Politics titled “The Chisholm Effect: Black Women in American Politics 2018,” Black women only make up 3.6 percent of the U.S. Congress and less than one percent of statewide elected executive officials. Only 38 other Black women have served in Congress since Shirley Chisholm’s groundbreaking victory in 1968, when she became the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress.
Relative to statewide elected executive offices, only three (3) Black women currently serve in a statewide office — Jenean Hampton (R-Ky.), lieutenant governor of Kentucky; Sheila Oliver (D-N.J.), lieutenant governor of New Jersey; and Denise Nappier (D-Conn.), the state treasurer of Connecticut. Together, these women represent 4.2 percent (3 of 71) of all women statewide elected executive officials and 0.96 percent (3 of 312) of all statewide elected executive officials in the entire country.
Going even further, only 12 Black women have ever held statewide elected executive office in just 11 out of the 50 states, and prior to Abrams’ historic quest to become the next governor of Georgia, no Black woman has ever been elected governor, let alone become the gubernatorial nominee of a major political party. Abrams may be just the person to change things.
Abrams has become a major catalyst behind this exciting new trend of Black women running for office nationally, and a lot of her momentum should trickle down to other seats on a local level.
Many of these Black women who decide to run for office need the support of the Democratic Party, which historically has a pretty dismal track record of providing support for African-American candidates nationwide and at the local level.
Maybe this time will be different. Time will tell. November to be exact. Stay tuned.
Jeffrey L. Boney is associate editor and an award-winning journalist for the Houston Forward Times.