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Crawford: Will Georgia Democrats relive an old nightmare?

Posted: August 16, 2017 - 1:32am

Georgia's Democratic voters will have their choice of two Staceys in next year's primary for governor: Rep. Stacey Abrams of Atlanta or Rep. Stacey Evans of Smyrna.

There are some striking similarities between the two contenders. They are both attorneys and are two of the most intelligent members of the General Assembly.

On the major issues, they have taken similar progressive stands. While there have been some minor differences here and there, both of them have accomplishments in the Legislature they can take pride in.

There is one major point of distinction between the two candidates. Abrams is black and Evans is white.

They have different visions of where they think the Democratic Party should be going. Abrams wants to energize black voters who have not previously been engaged in the political process. Evans wants to try to reconnect with working class whites who have been turning away from the Democratic Party in recent election cycles.

You can make a decent argument for both approaches. If Democrats want to win, they would certainly need to energize black voters. At the same time, they could also emphasize issues important to working class families of all colors.

But the events of last weekend show there may be a racial divide coming that rips the party in two next year.

The occasion was Netroots Nation, a yearly gathering of 3,000 or so progressive activists that was held in Atlanta.

Abrams gave a rousing speech to the activists on the convention's first day and received a standing ovation from the crowd.

When Evans spoke Saturday, it was a much different story.

It was nearly impossible for Evans to get through her 10-minute speech because pro-Abrams protesters were chanting loudly and shouting her down. The protesters turned their back on her as they waved signs reading "Trust Black Women" and "Evans = DeVos," a reference to Donald Trump's education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

The starkly different crowd reactions - and the racial animosity displayed towards the white candidate - could spell big trouble for a Democratic Party whose candidates haven't been able to win a statewide race in Georgia for more than a decade.

If the activities at the Netroots Nation conference are any indication, this is a primary election that could get very ugly before it's all over.

We've seen this kind of division tear apart the Democratic Party before.

Back in 2006, the party's two major candidates for governor were Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor and Secretary of State Cathy Cox (both candidates were white).

It became a political bloodbath between two candidates who clearly had a deep personal dislike for each other.

Taylor eventually prevailed in the slash-and-burn primary, but it was an empty victory. The nastiness of that campaign turned off quite a few Cox supporters who either sat out the general election or voted for the Republican incumbent, Sonny Perdue.

Is the Democratic Party headed for a similar debacle because of the upcoming battle between the two Staceys? Right now, the signs seem to be pointing that way.

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Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an internet news service at gareport.com that reports on state government and politics. He can be reached at tcrawford@gareport.com.

 

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