stacey abrams
Credit: LBJ School/flickr

There is a reason why the Georgia governors race is the most closely watched of the contests taking place this cycle. The Democratic candidate, Stacey Abrams, is a progressive who would become the first African American woman governor in this country’s history. Meanwhile, the Republican candidate, Brian Kemp, is currently serving as Georgia’s secretary of state and has a long history of voter suppression focused primarily on people of color. In addition to all of that, the race is a virtual tie according to the polls.

Keep in mind that one of the reasons why this former confederate state has been trending away from Republicans over the last decade is because of something called “reverse migration.”

[C]ensus migration data confirm that over the past three decades, the South has developed into a regional magnet for blacks, more so than for whites or the population as a whole. This renewed appeal to blacks, especially those with higher education levels and from all other parts of the country, provides additional evidence that the region’s economic, amenity, and cultural “pull” factors now outweigh the “push” factors that predominated in past decades.

More than any other southern state, Georgia has attracted many of these new migrants. That is especially true in Gwinnett County.

William Frey, demographer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said a key to this trajectory is the burgeoning Gwinnett County on the outskirts of Atlanta, where many black people have moved in recent years…

Gwinnett is Georgia’s second-largest county; with more than 900,000 residents it is just behind the city of Atlanta’s own staunchly Democrat Fulton County. But Gwinnett has changed from what was a majority white population in 2000 to majority black in 2017, said Frey, who authored a recent study on the changing demographics of the south.

There has also been an increase in Asian and Hispanic populations in the county, but “the black population is going to be the engine of the changes,” he said.

Perhaps that explains why the really big names are scheduled to roll into Georgia over the next few days. For example, President Obama will headline a GOTV rally at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s alma mater, Morehouse College, on Friday. But former presidents are small potatoes in comparison to what will happen the day before he arrives.

Oprah Winfrey, the Oscar-nominated self-made billionaire and media icon, is heading to Georgia to campaign for Stacey Abrams…

Winfrey will join Abrams on Thursday, Nov. 1, at two town hall conversations with constituents — in Cobb County and DeKalb County. She will also be knocking on doors, in these last few days of early voting in the state, encouraging eligible voters to cast their ballots for Abrams.

In this era of extreme polarization, there are certainly states where a visit from Obama or Winfrey might be dicey in terms of how much it would help or hurt the Democratic candidate. That isn’t the case in Georgia. As the organization Democracy in Color documented, Trump won there by slightly over 200,000 votes. But there were well over 1 million eligible voters of color who didn’t go to the polls in 2016. Stacey Abrams has been on the forefront of efforts to mobilize those voters. Aside from bringing in the big names, here is how that is happening at the grassroots level:

Gwinnett County, Georgia, is one of the most diverse counties in the country, but you wouldn’t know it from the houses on this particular block. Aside from a couple of political signs and the occasional overzealous Halloween decorator, this street in the city of Duluth is a stretch of similar two-story cream-and-brick homes, all facing similarly well-manicured lawns.

On a Thursday in October, six black women wearing bright orange T-shirts and jeans pull into this squeaky-clean north Atlanta suburb just before sundown, after what should have been a half-hour drive from the city took more than twice as long in traffic. They are domestic workers by day ― nannies, housekeepers and home care workers ― but they spend their evenings knocking on doors for Stacey Abrams, who would be the first black female governor in the history of the nation…

More than 300 domestic workers in Georgia ― nearly all black women, plus two men ― are running the largest independently funded ground game in the state ahead of this historic election. Their organization, Care in Action, is the political arm of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which represents 2.5 million domestic workers across the country. They’re talking to voters of color in four critical counties, from the Atlanta suburbs to rural southwest Georgia, that could feasibly turn from red to blue if more non-white voters showed up at the polls.

This contest is basically going to come down to a battle between voter suppression and voter mobilization.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.