While the polls in Georgia officially closed at 7 p.m., the window of opportunity for Stacey Abrams, the first black woman to win a gubernatorial nomination for any major party in Georgia, opened up.
With only 34 percent of the vote in, everybody from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to CNN to Stevie Wonder could see that Stacey Abrams’ 75-25 percent lead over Stacey Evans wouldn’t disappear with just a few more counties left to check in. By the time 53 percent of the vote was in, it was evident that something special was happening: Abrams was still leading 75-25 percent and had more than 200,000 primary votes, 50,000 more than Casey Cagle, the sitting lieutenant governor and the front-runner in the Republican primary (see updated primary results here).
At the Atlanta Sheraton, as the crowd slowly dripped in, people were calling this race by 8:30 p.m., long before some precincts were done counting their final votes.
“I’m so proud to be a black woman in Georgia right now,” says Charisse Price, an Atlanta resident and national curriculum director for the New Leaders Council, who arrived at the Abrams victory party to celebrate. “This is a historic moment not only in black history but in American history.”
Abrams’ victory is not only cause for celebration among African Americans, women, young voters and progressives—she also managed to do something that Democrats in Georgia are incredibly desperate to do: get the attention of the national Democratic Party. Georgia, whose Democrat Party has suffered defeat after defeat despite fielding adequate candidates over the years, needed a win. More than that, Georgia needed a strong showing by Abrams in the Democratic primary in order to stay on the Democratic National Committee’s radar for the fall midterms, as well as remain a hot location for major donors from across the country.
“We needed to show that we can turn out low-propensity voters,” said a local activist involved in voter turnout. “We targeted counties and precincts that usually had 2 or 3 percent African-American turnout, and we jumped it up to 10 or 12 percent. That’s good news, and donors need to hear our efforts are working.”
Abrams’ victory not only puts Georgia on the map but also heals an unnecessary and overblown wound in the Democratic Party, just in time for what might be a nation-changing midterm election. Abrams secured the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution and dozens of progressive and minority political organizations, while at the same time securing the endorsement of Hillary Clinton with an Election Day robocall encouraging people to vote.
So much for the Bernie-vs.-Hillary battle that was supposed to doom the party. So much for the belief that an African-American woman couldn’t be competitive in a red state. So much for the idea that a single black woman couldn’t win in the suburbs. So much for the idea that the entrenched black political elite in Atlanta that stood against Abrams actually speaks for the masses of black, white, Hispanic, Asian and young voters in Georgia.
And so much for the idea that the only way to victory for the Democratic Party is to chase after the same conservative white voters who have rejected Dems since the only Clinton in politics was Bill. Abrams’ victory speaks to a new, vibrant political and economic coalition that challenges the status quo in Democratic politics and America as a whole.
As Abrams’ supporters partied the night away on Peachtree Street, the work is only just beginning. There will a be tough race against either Lt. Gov. Cagle or Secretary of State Brian Kemp. However, that is a battle for another time and is still several months away. For now, it’s a night of reveling and victory, of broken narratives and new stories. Tonight is the night that black Stacey jumped from being a hidden figure to becoming a historic political role model.