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Women Candidates Are Aligning to Turn Georgia Blue

Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is campaigning alongside Lucy McBath in Georgia's 6th congressional district, Carolyn Bourdeaux in Georgia's 7th, and other women running down ballot to drive Democratic turnout across the state.

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Nov 6 2018, 2:50pm

Photo via Getty Images. 

“You know trickle-down economics?” Melita Easters, the executive director of Georgia’s Win List, a political action committee that recruits, trains, and runs women candidates for statewide office, asked me Sunday afternoon. She was wearing a denim jacket confettied with buttons for Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, 6th congressional district candidate Lucy McBath, and a slate of other women running for Georgia’s state house, as well as black velvet loafers with embroidered Democratic donkeys.

“There’s excitement and energy at the bottom of the ballot that builds up,” Easters explained, “and excitement and energy at the top of the ticket that trickles down.”

At the top of the ticket is Abrams and lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Sarah Riggs Amico; together, they would make history as the first women to hold these offices in Georgia simultaneously. Under them is a record number of women who’ve won their bids for Georgia’s House of Representatives and state Senate.

Easters and I stood in front of a table of La Croix, delicately arranged cheese and crackers, and chocolate chip cookies at a rally in Chamblee, a town just north of Atlanta, where state Senate candidate Sally Harrell and McBath would later appear, holding hands in a photo together along with two male state legislature candidates.There’s overlap between Harrell’s district and McBath’s, so it makes sense that the two would campaign together, Easters says: Their victories are bound up in each other’s.

“It feels like this force of nature,” Easters continued, “the way the waves build, gathering steam before they crest.”

Just the night before, I’d been talking “trickle down” politics with Howard Franklin, a Democratic strategist based in Georgia. I’d asked him if having a candidate as enormously popular as Abrams helped elevate lesser known candidates like McBath, who’s locked in a toss-up race with Republican incumbent Karen Handel.

In order to clinch her victory, Franklin told me, Abrams is counting on McBath as well as Carolyn Bourdeaux, the challenger in Georgia’s 7th congressional district, to drive turnout for Democrats. The 6th and 7th districts each house one “reverse-pivot county,” or counties that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, despite going to Republicans Mitt Romney and John McCain in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. There are just six of these counties in the nation.

“I wouldn’t call it a ‘trickle-down effect’,” Franklin said. “This is more of a collaboration or a coordination. If we didn’t have two disciplined, well-funded, and frankly exciting candidates in those two races, it would hurt [Abrams].”

To win her contentious gubernatorial bid, he added, “Abrams needs these districts to over-perform.”

The alliance calls to mind September’s New York state-level primaries, which saw progressive women down the ballot swapping endorsements and campaigning together to break up the boys’ club in the capital. Cynthia Nixon, the most prominent face of the state’s primary elections, elevated women like Jessica Ramos, Alessandra Biaggi, and Julia Salazar, who were running campaigns to defeat a bloc of Republican-aligned and Republican-adjacent Democrats in the state Senate. In exchange, these women were going door-to-door every day, educating voters and expanding the electorate, creating a climate more amenable to all of their victories.

The tactic had been fairly successful: Though Nixon fell to Governor Andrew Cuomo, the women she supported won their primaries in a decisive sweep.

But the women in New York had been trying to turn a blue state a deeper shade of blue; the women in Georgia are trying to turn a deep-red state blue. In Georgia, it’s also Black women specifically who have been fueling progressive momentum. Abrams’ bid for office drew Oprah Winfrey to the state last week, and on Friday night, Abrams and McBath shared a stage with Barack Obama, who spoke of Georgians’ opportunity to “reject bad politics” by voting for the two women. Franklin told me Georgia is no stranger to Black women’s political leadership, but that “enthusiasm has completely congealed” around McBath and Abrams.

“If we unify and come together as one strong force, we can change the entire state.”

Democratic strategists have long been tormented by questions of what it would take to draw Georgia, a state that hasn’t seen a Democratic governor in 15 years, over to their side. The South has been the site of some of the party’s most disappointing defeats, most recently in McBath’s district, where Democrat Jon Ossoff lost by just four points in last year’s special election. The wave of women running across the country has buoyed Georgia women, but they’ve also discovered a particular strength in tethering their boats together.

“With the Republican Party divisiveness is their trick,” Essence Johnson, the Democratic candidate in Georgia’s 45th House district, told me at a different joint rally Sunday afternoon. This one was held about 20 minutes from McBath’s and Harrell’s, in a Mediterranean grill and market. “If we unify and come together as one strong force, we can change the entire state.”

Johnson said that earlier in election season she’d met with some of the other Democratic challengers running nearby in Georgia, promising that if they made it out of their primaries they would run their races collaboratively “because we don’t have the bandwidth to do it alone.”

Johnson gestured to Ellyn Jeager, another Democratic woman running for the state Senate, who had given her rally speech earlier on crutches, the result, I later learned, of an injury she got shooting a short video for her campaign encouraging people to “hustle” to the polls. “Where you’re weak I’m strong,” Johnson said. “Ellyn right now is on crutches, she can’t go out [to canvass]. I’m her legs; I carry her message.”