Is the Republican Hold on the South Beginning to Crumble?

When it comes to presidential politics, prior to 2008, the conventional wisdom held that in order for Democrats to win the White House, they had to nominate a (white male) Southerner. That assumption was grounded in recent history, which showed that only Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were able to prevail in the electoral college by winning Southern states. The string of losses included Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis and John Kerry—all Northerners from blue states.

But then a black man from Hawaii and Illinois changed the equation. As in all elections, there are multiple reasons why that happened. One of them was the changing demographics that allowed Obama to win states like Florida, Virginia and Nevada (and even North Carolina in 2008). The dynamics of the Republican Party’s Southern Strategy were beginning to crumble on the fringes and Democrats no longer required a white Southern candidate to succeed.

Of course, Donald Trump’s win in 2016 changed the equation once again. But instead of raising the specter of the need for a white male Southern nominee, the questions have centered on how Democrats can win back traditionally blue states in the so-called “Heartland” and “Rust Belt.”

In the midst of all that, the changes that seem to have turned a state like Virginia blue continue in a few other red states. One of the most interesting right now is Georgia. Here’s the data:

By 2025, Georgia is expected to become a minority-majority state; U.S. census data has Georgia’s current white population at 61 percent (recent data says white registered voters dropped from 59 percent of Georgia’s electorate to under 57 percent in 2016), black population stands at 32 percent, Latino at 9.4 percent and Asian at 4.1 percent.

In recent presidential elections, George W. Bush won Georgia by over 16 points in 2004. The margin for Romney was down to half of that (7.8). But here’s the kicker: Hillary Clinton improved on Obama’s 2012 performance by almost 3 points. She lost the state to Trump by only 5.

This is why the Georgia governor’s race is one to watch. Running to be the country’s first black female governor, Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams will test Obama’s 2008 strategy in the heart of the Confederate South.

Abrams believes there’s a growing, multiracial coalition of Georgians who are ready to elect her.

“The goal that I have is to ensure that we build a coalition that reflects that opportunity,” she says. “Because we are so close to [racial] parity, and no other state is positioned where we are in terms of the composition of that parity. We have the voters … to build a brand-new coalition we haven’t really seen in a Southern state.”

When Abrams talks about the unique composition of the racial parity that is developing in Georgia, a major factor is something the Brookings Institute called “The New Great Migration.” Reversing the first Great Migration of the Jim Crow years, Georgia is one of the main destinations for primarily college-educated African Americans who are returning to the South.

Not just any candidate could take advantage of the potential for a multiracial coalition in Georgia. But Stacey Abrams has all of the qualities that would be necessary to do so. She has a wealth of political experience, having most recently served as the Democratic Minority Leader in the state house. She also graduated from Yale Law School and was a tax attorney, primarily working with nonprofits. In her spare time, she is a writer.

Abrams has published articles on issues of public policy, taxation and nonprofit organizations. Under the pen name Selena Montgomery, Abrams is the award-winning author of several romantic suspense novels.

Heading in to a primary in May against Stacey Evans, Abrams has garnered endorsements from both Rep. John Lewis and Our Revolution (the organization founded by Bernie Sanders), demonstrating that she has the ability to span whatever divides remain in the Democratic Party following the 2016 primary. Her website also points out that “Stacey has received the Friend of Labor award for her staunch support of working families and an A-rating from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce in the same year,” further demonstrating her ability to span traditional divides.

Given the backlash against Trump’s racism and sexism that is fueling a resistance that could lead to a blue wave this November, what I’m suggesting is that the moment is right to test the possibility of whether or not a multiracial coalition can win in a former Confederate state whose demographics are shifting the political climate to the left. Stacey Abrams is uniquely qualified to be the candidate to find out. That’s what will make this contest so interesting to watch.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .