For the first time in the US, voters have chosen a black woman as nominee for state governor after Stacey Abrams declared victory in Georgia’s Democratic primary.
Abrams – a former state House minority leader and progressive who earned support from both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders – beat Stacey Evans, also a former state representative. The result was among the most consequential in a series of primaries that brought successes for female candidates across the country ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.
Abrams will attempt to make history as both America’s first black female governor and the first woman to hold the position in Georgia. The Republican primary, which was largely contested among a group of white men, looked headed for a run-off as neither of the candidates secured a majority of the vote.
Abrams’s victory came hours after Amy McGrath, a retired Marine fighter pilot, defeated the Democratic party’s establishment candidate in the primary race for a House seat in Kentucky.
McGrath, who fashioned herself as part of a younger generation seeking to challenge the old guard in Washington, beat the Lexington mayor, Jim Gray, a millionaire who had been backed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Primaries were also held in Arkansas, where the state’s governor, Asa Hutchinson, comfortably held off a primary challenge from the right.
Although Arkansas boasts of an entirely Republican delegation in Congress, Democrats are eyeing the state’s 2nd congressional district. In a sign of the state’s conservative climate, Democrats rallied behind moderate state representative Clarke Tucker over more liberal contenders.
Democrats need to flip 23 seats to take control of the House of Representatives in November.
The party has seen a sharp rise in progressive candidates since Donald Trump’s election, but has faced lingering internal divisions over how to navigate the reliably red terrain of the American south. National Democratic groups have continued to struggle with whether the focus should be placed on the populist left or appealing to independents with more centrist candidates.
A contentious congressional primary in Texas drew unusually widespread attention as a microcosm of the debate, as national Democrats sought to undermine activist Laura Moser from securing the party’s nomination and ultimately prevailed on Tuesday. Moser lost to attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who was not formally endorsed by the DCCC but its preferred candidate and will now endeavor to unseat Republican Representative John Culberson in November.
The victories of Abrams and McGrath were nonetheless held up as evidence of successful efforts in inspiring the party’s base.
Abrams was bolstered in particular by African American voters and invested heavily in mobilizing Democrats who do not typically turn up at the polls. Trump carried Georgia by just five percentage points in the 2016 election, which some political analysts attributed to the state’s changing demographics — namely the rise in communities of color.
Abrams enjoyed support from a bevy of progressive organizations, including Democracy for America, the Working Families Party, MoveOn, EMILY’s List and NARAL Pro-Choice America. Abrams’s victory was touted on Tuesday not simply for its historical significance and potential, but what the pro-women group Emily’s List declared as “a clear sign that Georgia voters are ready for the next generation of progressive leadership”.
“Stacey Abrams’ victory tonight is an incredibly important win for the grassroots movement that rose up behind her in this primary and a Democratic Party that is, in many ways, still searching for a way forward after the crushing losses of 2016 and the outdated, Republican-lite playbook that caused them,” said Jim Dean, the chair of Democracy for America.
“We eagerly backed Stacey Abrams because she was committed to running a race that would definitively prove that when Democrats run a bold, progressive, people-powered campaign around our shared values, we can expand the electorate, restore faith in our democracy, and win.”
History was also made in the Democratic runoff for governor in Texas with the victory of Lupe Valdez. A former Dallas county sheriff, Valdez became the first Hispanic woman and first openly gay person to win a major party’s gubernatorial nomination in the state.
Valdez will now embark on an uphill battle to unseat Texas governor Greg Abbott in November. Abbott is favored to win re-election in the state, which has not elected a Democrat as governor since 1990.