After years of close calls, red herring and ever-approaching election margins, Democrats have won Georgia for the first time since 1992 in this year’s presidential election.
The victory broke the Republican lock of the southern states in the Electoral College, but also vindicated Stacey Abrams, a Georgian Democrat and House minority leader who has become synonymous with the party’s national victory attempts. Ms Abrams, who helped organizations register new voters and overcome voter repression, said the victory was a personal relief – a political rebound after barely losing her governorship in 2018.
In an interview with The Times, he outlined how he thought Mr Biden had won and how liberal groups in other southern states could repeat Georgia’s journey. He also considered the current division of the Democratic Party and its future political plans.
These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Georgia turned blue after so many decades of work. How did you feel when that turned out? Was it a certificate? Was it a relief? What was the emotion?
I think it was relief and excitement that it meant. But it’s also a healthy dose of realism – we’ve done that, but we’ve achieved it narrowly, which means there’s still work to be done.
I wouldn’t say justification in the sense that there was some kind of chest beating, but I’m excited at how this proves the model of building a wall of leaders across racial and geographical lines. It has been my privilege to be part of building the resources, infrastructure, and narratives that help bring different communities together, all working toward the same goal. In a decade and with resources, this has resulted in success.
What was different from the coalition voters this time? What happened in 2020 that failed to be done in 2018 or 2016?
Well, I think there are two pieces in this. One is that demographic change is ongoing and each cycle offers an opportunity not only to register them but also to involve them. So it builds the muscle memory of voting, increases the ability to participate because people have more information and have a deeper sense of their abilities and choices.
I would make a distinction between 2016 and 2020, using 2018 as a marker, because it also happened that we were able to remove significant restrictions on voter access.
Suppression of voters played a very important role in shaping turnout in 2018 and 2016. In 2018, we made much deeper investments in actual voter turnout, but we still ran into voter cleanup, accurate match closures, inaccurately used old machines and scattered, broken machines, and then compared to the super high rejection rate of black and brown voters in absentia or at temporary polling stations.
So what we were able to identify in a concrete way in 2018, we were able to mitigate the direction until 2020.
So I think the combination of increased voter engagement sees an additional 800,000 people registering and remaining on the list through November 2018 through this election. But it also removed and eased a number of barriers that prevented access to opinion polls.
I think this is very important, although people are excited about the proactive work we have been able to do to get voters to the polls, we cannot ignore that incredible change because voters were really able to get through the gloves and have their votes counted.
What were those early years like? Did you believe when they said Georgia could be a democratic state?
I became a minority leader in November 2010, two weeks after the worst loss suffered by Democrats in Georgian history. We lost every government office. We lost the Senate by a super-large majority. We lost several members from the State House. And we headed for a year of redeployment where Republicans pulled 124 of the 180 seats for themselves on paper.
I traveled around the country and raised money for House tournaments and made people invest almost impossible, the people did not see the validity of the victory in Georgia. They pointed to the 2008 election when the Obama campaign found that we were not yet viable, so there was no investment. In 2012, I couldn’t take advantage of the fact that the campaign would invest in donor delivery. So he was a very small donor cadre, mostly human friends with whom I took myself to meet. I would say, “I know you don’t think Georgia is real, but let me tell you what it might look like.”
I took the same deck every cycle, updated it, and said, “We were here. And here we go. And while this thing may seem incremental, let me tell you what’s going on right now.
I’ve always loved these lines: “Give me a place where I can stand and move the world.” Well, give me a place to stand and convince me that Georgia is real.
What was your lowest point at the time? What was the moment you questioned whether it was possible?
The transfer will end in 2011. Republicans handed over maps that gave them disproportionate proportions everywhere. He packed the black communities, broke the Latin communities. This placed the only Latin legislature in the majority white district. And the maps have been approved. It was December 2011 when Republicans were given permission to be racial in the state of Georgia, and that was distressing to me. This meant that our only salvation was to crawl back on our way.
There would be no new map. There would be no lawsuit. We had to do this by finding every voter we could, and it would take much longer than I had hoped, but no longer than I had imagined.
Looking ahead, how can Democrats unite the coalition we saw in November without Trump on the ballot? Obviously, the course of the Senate is the first step.
This coalition existed in my election in 2018. It’s a coalition we’ve built together over the past decade through groups like Asian-American advocacy funds, the Black Lives Matter, the Coalition for the People’s Agenda, Mi Ghent, the Southerners on New Ground. So this is a group that came together not just for convenience. We worked together in a coalition, and that’s why I think we can sustain it.
What about other states? Why did Democrats not see similar benefits in other states through southern countries on election day?
I can’t talk about what hasn’t happened in other states, I can say that Georgia has the most diverse electorate among the battlefield states. We have seen not only a dramatic increase in voter turnout, but in voter turnout. Latin and AAPI voters have risen sharply since 2016.
We do not agree with the analysis of The Upshot. We think the black stock is actually 29 percent, and that’s proportional to where it was so far. It has fallen slightly because the number among Latin and AAPI voters has risen sharply, and I strongly reject this notion that we have lost 2 per cent of the proportion of black votes.
But not only have we seen an increase in voter turnout, but also an increase in the turnout of Latin voters by 72 percent. AAPI voters increased their turnout by 91 percent and black voters by 20 percent. White voters increased theirs by 16 percent. So we were able to increase all margins and continue to increase the proportion of white voters. And that combination matters. It’s a combination that doesn’t really exist at this level in other states like here in Georgia.
There are differences between Democrats, especially moderate and progressive in some votes. He has respect in both camps. Do you think messages like “police destruction” are hurting the party in House and Senate races?
I think you will continue the campaign based on where you live. And I have always insisted on the reality that we exist on the spectrum of development. Some have progressed on this spectrum. There are other communities that are struggling to find their way around. And in every campaign, it’s up to each choice to identify where it is, but where it can go.
But it is up to those local communities to calibrate how broad and how far the vision can reach.
I don’t think it’s helpful to try to force every single person into the same form. I’m talking about my work here translating the word “progressive” into “southern” because I know there are conversations that are absolutely necessary, but that can’t be achieved if we haven’t built the language to describe it yet. And we need to do the work of building the language before we can turn to the slogans.
But is it zero amount? The word we hear from moderate members of the House is that they give too much space to some of these progressive members and slogans, and it hurts them.
For the Democratic Party, our burden and benefit is to face diversity. Republicans rarely have to get involved because of the homogeneous nature of their belief system. When you oppose most things, you don’t have to articulate what it’s for.
And it’s a broad generalization, and I know, but Democrats have always had to recognize that the big tent we’ve built will have robust conversations in it. And these conversations always flow into the atmosphere. Republicans will arm these conversations. It could be a whisper or a shout, but they find a way to take advantage of them.
Our job is to make sure we’ve built a base understanding of who we are.
Will he run for governor in 2022?
I will focus on January 5 and ensure that Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock can be sent to the U.S. Senate.
Is there a timetable by which to make this decision?
I’m just looking forward to January 5th.