Democratic Debate: Democrats Can Win Stacey Abrams' Georgia If They Really Want It

Former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives Stacey Abrams speaks to a crowd at a Democratic National Committee event at Flourish in Atlanta on June 6, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. The DNC held a gala to raise money for the DNCs IWillVote program, which is aimed at registering voters.
Photo: Dustin Chambers/Getty Images

ATLANTA—Georgia’s Democratic Party Chair Nikema Williams says the eventual Democratic nominee for president of the United States can win Georgia, if they put in the work.

Stacey Abrams proved as much. She delivered some brief remarks Tuesday morning at a roundtable addressing access to voting for people with disabilities. Not being able to physically access a polling station because people can’t get to the voting booth or being able to automatically vote because they don’t have a driver’s license are easy ways to discourage people from voting.

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“If you’ve got to prove every single time there’s an election that you have the right to be heard,” Abrams said. “Eventually, they’re just going to fall silent out of exhaustion. And we know for the disabled community this is a hurdle that is put in place every single time.”

I spoke with Williams about tonight’s debate following Abrams’ remarks and she echoed a similar call for protecting voter rights and how the candidates should take heed.

“I’m looking towards the 2020 election, but we did not stop what we did in Georgia in 2018,” Williams said. “We’re only building up on the energy and everything that Stacey Abrams built in the state and we continued that energy into 2019. We didn’t take 2019 as an off-year-election. We continue to build upon that and pick up municipal races along the way. So as we conclude the 2019 election cycle, we’re looking towards 2020 and how we can engage our constituency groups and Georgia Democrats across the state, so we can move into 2020 turn Georgia a bright blue.”

The last Democrat to win Georgia in a presidential election was Bill Clinton, back in 1992. Barack Obama lost the state in 2008 and 2012, but Stacey Abrams told The Root in 2017 that he could have won it both times had he devoted adequate resources. The South, where most black people in America live, has long been seen as a lost cause for national Democrats and activists here in Georgia are trying to change that perception.

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Williams, for example, told me that Georgia has the highest black turnout of any state in the union. Her advice to the 10 candidates set to debate here at Tyler Perry Studios tonight is to follow Abrams’ playbook and be clear about the types of voters you’re aiming for.

“Stacey Abrams showed us that you can absolutely live out your values out loud and on purpose and still win in state in the Deep South like Georgia,” she said. “So, it’s time out for placating to people who are never going to be with us on issues. We have to be sure that we are uplifting the values we care about and we have to have authenticity with our candidates and be sure we are talking to voters in a very real way about issues that matter to them.”

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Debating tonight are Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. The other candidates are Sens. Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, and businessmen Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang.

It would be wise for all of the candidates to make the case that they can win the state of Georgia in the primary and what their plans are for people here. While Warren and Buttigieg are making inroads with white voters in Iowa, they should remind the country that it is black people who are the backbone of the party and pay homage to the work Stacey Abrams has done to make the state one for Democrats to take in 2020.

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Basically, everybody needs to kiss the ring and tell Stacey how wonderful she is.

The person with the most to gain and lose tonight is Sen. Harris. With the endorsement of Higher Heights, Harris is getting what could be the biggest signal boost to black female voters that her candidacy is a viable one. Don’t force confrontations with other candidates unless they come for her. (We all know Harris is ready for anybody who comes for her!) She just needs to be herself and that should be enough, honestly. Warren needs to show that she has the acumen and will to fight for black voters and speak to how she will fight the voter suppression efforts that stole the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election from Abrams. Everyone needs to do that actually, but Warren needs to do it much more because she’ll only win the nomination if enough black people feel her. Mayor Pete? Well, the man needs to prove he can win over black voters because it appears few black people in the town he leads likes him too much.

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And I think he needs to touch on that reported campaign memo that suggested that black people aren’t feeling him because he’s gay. I mean, I am not sure he wants it to be believed that his campaign feels the black electorate is homophibic. Not the best way to win over black support, but that’s just me.

Bernie is still in the hunt. All he has to do is keep on being Bernie and his night will be a success. Best he can do in a field this crowded with names that eclipse his own and where his opponent is not Hillary Clinton. What about Joe? He just needs to not act like Joe, which is not possible because Joe always manages to act like Joe and say something really cringe-worthy. An apology to Anita Hill would be nice. Won’t happen, but I am not wrong for hoping. Nonetheless, Joe’s gaffes and history with segregationists and buddying up to them hasn’t stopped black people from supporting him.

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Don’t ask me why, though.

No matter who the 2020 Democratic nominee is, the Georgia Democratic Party is fighting against Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s voter suppression efforts by establishing a full-time voter protection section of their state party, which Williams says is the only one in the nation to do so.

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In every congressional district, she said there is a voter suppression expert working with the state party.

The state recently announced that it is removing more than 300,000 people from the voter rolls to update records of people who have stopped voting or moved away. Voter rights advocates say it is clear voter suppression.

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“Those are the things we are actively getting ahead of before the election,” Williams said. “We can’t wait until 2020 to start to address the things that are happening in the state. So what we’ve done was made sure we had a year-round apparatus and we kept our voter protection team up and running year around—even though the 2020 election was two years away.”

Georgia can be won—if the Democrats on stage tonight really believe it and want it enough.

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About the author

Terrell Jermaine Starr

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior reporter at The Root. He is currently writing a book proposal that analyzes US-Russia relations from a black perspective.

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