Even as a remarkable number of establishment Democrats in Georgia looked backwards for a model for how to capture the governorship this November—winning back whites who fled to the GOP over the last 30 years —the state’s Democratic primary voters looked to the state’s multiracial future. Progressive African American Stacey Abrams, former state house minority leader, resoundingly defeated state representative Stacey Evans by a 3-to-1 margin on Tuesday night to become the first black woman nominated for governor in Georgia history. If she wins, she’ll be the first black woman governor in US history, not merely in the history of the former confederate state that is now only 60 percent white. Abrams staked her candidacy on the Georgia that is emerging. We’ll find out in November whether that support can carry her to victory. She will face one of two conservatives, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle or Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who are headed to a July runoff.
Abrams, remarkably, united the still-sparring national Democratic Party behind her, winning the endorsement of Hillary Clinton as well as Senator Bernie Sanders, Emily’s List and NARAL, plus the Working Families Party and Our Revolution, along with 2020 possibilities Senators Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren. Not surprisingly, Abrams was also endorsed by Atlanta Representative and civil rights icon John Lewis.
More surprisingly, Evans won support from much of Georgia’s black elected establishment (as well as its white elite), including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms plus former mayors Kasim Reed and Andrew Young. Those endorsements for Evans kept the race from becoming utterly racially divisive—for the most part. Evans lost some stature when she joined Georgia GOP Secretary of State Brian Kemp, now running for governor, in attacking Abrams’s work on the New Georgia Project, which registered at least tens of thousands of new minority voters but has been dogged by questions about voter-form accuracy. Kemp has compared the project to the wrongly attacked, now defunct ACORN. Abrams has been fighting him since 2014, and Evans, unexpectedly, piled on.
To her credit, Evans conceded and endorsed Abrams before 10 pm. “The Democratic party is trying to find a unified voice to rally against Trump. We must do that,” she said. She also sent Abrams a congratulatory Tweet:
— Stacey Evans (@EvansforGeorgia) May 23, 2018
Meanwhile, Kemp is headed to a runoff with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, as both men vie to be the cruelest on immigration. That didn’t work for Republican Ed Gillespie in Virginia last November. It could be more successful in Georgia, but that’s not guaranteed.
Polls never showed the Abrams-Evans race terribly close, but there remained a large undecided contingent until recently. Evans, who grew up in poverty and became a wealthy lawyer, had an appealing story and progressive bona fides of her own. She staked her campaign on defending Georgia’s HOPE scholarship, which helped her go to college, and which she claimed Abrams compromised as House minority leader. Abrams said she accepted an increase in the necessary grade point average for eligibility, in order to hold onto pre-kindergarten funding as well as prevent deeper HOPE cuts, but the issue seemed to cut Evans’s way for a while.