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Just Peachy: A Great Night for Women Candidates in Georgia

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Yes, Stacey Abrams will be the Democrats’ nominee for governor. But many more Democratic women are suiting up for what could be an earth-shaking general election.

By Teresa Tomlinson. Originally published on The Daily Beast, May 23, 2018.

As the American political world watched to see which Stacey would make the cut in Georgia’s gubernatorial Democratic primary, an equally interesting story unfolded down ballot.

Diverse, enthusiastically progressive women and men were making a move all across the Georgia ballot in what most of the country has written off as the ruby red, conservative South. White Democratic men, however, did not fare well.  Those voters pulling Democratic ballots in Georgia’s open primary have shown they strongly prefer elected leaders that look like them, and with few exceptions that is not older, white men.

The pairing of Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans sharply contrasted with the five white, conservative men running in the Republican gubernatorial primary who participated in embarrassing debates about who has the bigger pick-up truck, chainsaw, gun and deportation bus. One Republican candidate’s commercial featured him pointing a shotgun at a would-be suitor of his daughter, reminiscent of 1960’s Andy Griffith Show’s fictional feud between “Pa” Darling and crazed mountain man Ernest T. Bass over the fair Charlene Darling.

Abrams and Evans left nothing on the bench – pulling heavy-hitter endorsements, raising major cash, running truly substantive ads and engaging in serious debate about serious issues they expected the voters to understand, and the voters did.  In the end, Abrams beat Evans with over 75 percent of the vote, winning not just in the urban and suburban precincts, but in rural counties, as well. A superb orator, Abrams topped the night with a rousing speech that sought to connect all of us – urban and rural alike – to the notion of one prosperity. Evans immediately conceded and joined ranks.

Abrams goes on from here to try and make history as the first female African-American Governor in America. She will have two months to make hay while the sun shines, as the Republicans engage in what will certainly be a bitter run-off, to be held on July 24. Republican voters were deeply divided between long-time Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, who garnered a disappointing 39 percent of the primary vote, and Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who mustered 26 percent.

Note, however, that Cagle did his best to make an archenemy out of the third-place finisher Hunter Hill. Now, Hill may well team up with Kemp. Both Kemp and Hill are more conservative than Cagle, which should bode well for Kemp in a July vote that is certain to have low turnout and attract only the most ardent, right wing voters. Regardless of who wins, we can probably go ahead and assign the vast majority of Georgia’s white male support, let’s say 30 percent of the vote, to whomever makes it out of the Republican run-off. That leaves 70 percent of the vote (comprised mostly of women and non-white males) up for grabs.

What is interesting and thus far largely unnoticed, is that Abrams and Evans were not alone in making Georgia Democratic history.  There were solid women candidates all over the Democratic primary ballot. In a state where no woman currently holds statewide elected office, we had two Democratic women running for Governor, two running for Lieutenant Governor, one running for Secretary of State, two running for Insurance Commissioner, and two running for Georgia’s highly visible and controversial Public Service Commission.

Three out of six Democratic candidates for the 7th congressional district were women: one of whom, Carolyn Bourdeaux, is well-funded, brilliant and tough.  She will be in the July run-off with Democrat David Kim, the American-born son of Korean immigrants, a Harvard graduate and entrepreneur. In other words, both candidates are strong and stand a good chance to upset Republican incumbent Rob Woodall in November. The Cook rating for the district is R+9, meaning that it is Republican but winnable for a Democrat in a strong year.

Democrat Lucy McBath was the top vote getter out of a field of men vying for the opportunity to face 6th district Republican Congresswoman Karen Handel (the victor in last year’s Jon Osseff match-up). McBath will face Democrat Kevin Abel, a South African immigrant and successful entrepreneur, in the July run-off.  Either candidate will give Handel a run for her money in the general election. This district is R+8, according to Cook.

In Georgia’s 180-member House of Representatives, 34 Democratic women saddled up to compete for seats previously held by Republicans. This is on the heels of Georgians electing the first two Latina and the first Vietnamese woman state representatives, joining other African-American and white women elected to the state legislature in 2016 and 2017.

The table is set. Georgia Republicans usually out-vote Georgia Democrats in primaries by about 290,000 votes. This time around, it was 50,000. If that enthusiasm gap continues into November, the statewide races will be neck and neck.  And, much like Amy McGrath’s Kentucky primary defeat of Democratic Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, we see Georgia Democratic voters choosing diverse, qualified candidates, particularly women, to do battle in November. These candidates are thought to be more pragmatic, than dogmatic. They don’t measure truck size, and they vow to check their egos for the shared purpose of solution making. Maybe these Southern Democrats have stumbled on to something.

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