“I don’t wanna vote for her just because she’s black, you know?”
I hate it when I hear things like that. It drives me nuts to hear the contortions that black folks will go through to explain, rationalize and then justify creating their own political impotence. Yet there I was sitting at a small neighborhood Mexican restaurant in Atlanta discussing one of the most important governors races in America: former House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams versus state Rep. Stacey Evans—black Stacey vs. white Stacey—and this was the rationale I was hearing from a black voter.
I spent the weekend talking to black folks in and around metro Atlanta about the 2018 race, and I have some hope that commonsense politics will prevail. Unfortunately, I also see all of the ingredients for an epic electoral fail on the part of black voters.
The 2018 Georgia governors race is the epitome of American politics in the post-Obama, post-Trump, post-truth age: a frappé of race, sexuality and party maneuvering as the increasingly diverse state of Georgia wrestles with the future. As in much of the South, there are actually three political parties vying for power: black Democrats, white Democrats and Republicans. Thanks to gerrymandering and an exodus of white baby boomers and Generation Xers to the Republican Party since the ’90s, the Georgia Democratic Party base is mostly black.
However, the most tenured officeholders, the big-time donors and most of the political consulting class are white. All while Republicans dominate the state through voter-suppression laws so draconian that Jeff Sessions caught the vapors. Consequently, the 2018 election is a mêlée à trois among these factions, with black politicians often trying to play all sides for their own advancement. Which is how we got the two Staceys.
In a fair world, Stacey Abrams would be the Georgia Democratic Party’s political fantasy. She’s a 43-year-old single black woman, Spelman grad, lawyer and mystery-novel writer and was Democratic minority leader since 2010 before stepping down this year to run for governor. She’s racked up endorsements from progressive groups and luminaries like Nina Turner and John Lewis. She’s got a national-cable-network profile and a crowd-pleasing sense of humor.
Imagine Samantha Bee except black and taller with locs and a law degree. She’s popular across all races and demographics, but with 65.5 percent of the Democratic primary population being African American, and 40 percent of them black women, the entire Democratic establishment should be courting Abrams; instead, she’s getting curved.
“You’ve got these old-school [white] consultants that would rather lose with a white woman than win with a black one,” said a veteran political consultant familiar with the race who chose not to be identified.
Many establishment Democrats (meaning white folks) in Georgia don’t think a single black woman can win a statewide election, even though white Democrats haven’t fared much better since 2002. Georgia newspapers are filled with words like “uneasy” and “unsure” regarding Abrams’ “appeal,” which is just code for “We want black votes but we don’t support black candidates.” Many of them have thrown their weight behind Stacey Evans, a white, married 39-year-old state representative and lawyer from Smyrna, Ga.
Evans is peak white Democratic thinking in 2017; she’s every whispered “working-class white voter” speech by Sen. Bernie Sanders rolled up in an “economic anxiety” bun from centrist TV pundits, sprinkled with some “pink pussy hat” sauce. Yet she still manages to be incredibly bland.
She got booed at the progressive Netroots Nation convention this past summer and has not been able to catch Abrams in fundraising. And during Monday’s candidate debate, she displayed about as much charisma as Offred from The Handmaid’s Tale.
If it’s about qualifications, Evans is less qualified than Abrams. If it’s about moving the audience, Evans is less dynamic than Abrams. If it’s about who’s more likely to win the governors race—it’s a steep climb for both—then Abrams’ experience with voter registration, fundraising and nationalizing the race gives her a sure advantage.
This all boils down to some Democrats not believing that a black woman can win, and some are willing to lose with Evans rather than losing, or even risking a win, with Abrams. In recent weeks, a two-pronged attack by Democrats and Republicans has been launched, with both targeting black voters, showing a level of collusion not seen since Don Jr. was talking “adoptions.”
Republicans have always tried to depict Abrams as a difficult (code word) radical, hell-bent on actually trying to illegally register black and brown voters, and those allegations have appeared more in recent months. Democrats have been worse. Out-of-state donors claim to have received calls warning them off of giving to Abrams—from Democrats—in Georgia because they don’t believe she can win. Close to home, the Evans team has started a whisper campaign that Abrams is an “angry black woman” and a “lesbian.”
That’s some dirty politics; too bad it spreads, especially among some black voters.
“Isn’t she a lesbian?” a black 30-something lawyer friend of mine asked me while we were chatting in the parking lot. “She’s qualified, but I don’t think a black lesbian is winning the governor’s mansion in Georgia.”
“Stacey [Evans] is kind of boring, but I heard Abrams rubbed some of the black leadership the wrong way. That she’s the ‘angry black woman’ type, and I hear she’s a lesbian. I don’t know if that can win,” said my lunch mate, a black single mother in her 30s who works in education.
What is amazing is that Abrams maintains a healthy lead over Evans despite these attacks, but what is even more amazing is that she’s had to face them. The fact that Abrams isn’t gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and has turned Georgia Democrats from side piece to full-time player in state legislative politics isn’t enough to convince some voters, even black ones, that she can win, because Abrams is not white. So while state Democrats cleared the gubernatorial primary of challengers for Jason Carter in 2014, in 2018 some of those same Democrats are making Abrams fight through Mario Kart, with some black voters willingly dropping bombs and banana peels in the path of a competent black woman trying to make history.
In the end, Abrams is probably going to win the Georgia Democratic governors primary—that alone would be historic—and then who knows what happens in the general election? She’s more popular and leading in the polls, and her competition is flailing around like one of those balloon people outside a car dealership, only they’re being inflated by the archaic thinking of her establishment benefactors. Democrats, all Democrats, should be excited about an Abrams campaign—a chance to do something different, the epitome of changing history or going down swinging. You just wish she didn’t have to work twice as hard against twice as many parties to actually run her race.