OPINION: Changing the tide — Abrams shifts Democratic identity

Stacey_Abrams
Above: STATING HER CASE: Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Georgia General Assembly house minority leader Stacey Abrams speaks at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas of Austin in February of 2012. On May 22 of this year, Abrams defeated former state representative Stacey Evans in the Democratic primary to become the first black woman to win a major party’s nomination for governor. Her ascension reflects a larger shift within the Democratic Party. Photo from Washington Monthly.

By Alexander Robinson
Clarke Central High School

 

 

 

Even after Barack Obama defeated John McCain in the presidential election of 2008, the myth of the Southern Democrat persisted.

In the 40 years prior, it seemed as though only a white Democrat from the former Confederacy could defeat a Republican. President Lyndon Johnson, before serving as John F. Kennedy’s vice president, represented Texas in the U.S. Senate. Years later, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were only able to defeat incumbent Republicans after serving Georgia and Arkansas respectively as governor. While Obama proved that a different type of liberal could take the White House, the South remained steeped in conservatism.

Stacey Abrams has begun to change this notion. On May 22, she defeated Stacey Evans to become the Democratic gubernatorial nominee. This, at an earlier time, would have been almost impossible. While Republicans Casey Cagle and Brian Kemp continue to compete for their party’s nomination in a runoff election that will be held on July 24, Abrams stands as the sole Democratic candidate as a woman of color.

Mayor-elect of Athens Clarke County Kelly Girtz, a registered Democrat, is glad that Abrams is the nominee, and believes that she can effectively mobilize the electorate.

“It’s been amazing to see the energy surrounding her campaign and I’m excited about it for Georgia,” Girtz said. “I’ve heard dozens if not hundreds of political speakers out there on the stump. Abrams is among the very best in terms of connecting with an audience. I’d like to see a forward-moving state government under an Abrams administration in the same way we’re going to have a forward moving local government.”

In the 1990s or 2000s however, a Stacey Evans victory would have been much more likely. While Abrams represents the progressive wing of the party, to many Evans was seen as a manifestation of the moderate Democrat. While not conservative, Evans would have certainly been the inevitable nominee a decade ago. As a white politician, she would have been seen as the safer, more ‘electable’ choice.

With the nomination of Abrams, this seems to be changing. While it remains to be seen whether or not she’ll win in November as national Democrats hope for a ‘blue wave,’ grassroots liberals across the country are beginning to embrace more diverse candidates. Even in a state as conservative as Georgia, liberals are willing, for better or for worse, to entrust tougher races with more unconventional candidates. While a Cagle or Kemp victory is still very likely, the mere fact that Abrams has a shot at the governorship is significant in its own right.

As President Obama’s legacy continues to develop, one thing has become apparent. While conservative Democrats like Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp certainly still hold office, their power and prominence are beginning to wane. The Democratic Party seems as though it no longer belongs to the likes of Bill Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry. It now belongs to those who stand farther left, like Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. If Stacey Abrams is able to defeat a Republican to become Georgia’s next governor, she will have cemented this shift.

 

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