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Mainstream Motivation: Will Centrist Pitch Play in Georgia Governor’s Race?

Georgia Democratic Party Chairman DuBose Porter and stacey abrams

With the coming of the autumn leaves — and the November general election — Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp are moving away from the fringes of their respective parties, positioning themselves as more moderate than they might have seemed during their primary campaigns.

While many centrists applaud a move to what is seen as the mainstream, that is precisely what the Savannah Morning News was hoping wouldn't happen.

“The 2018 gubernatorial election promises to alter Georgia’s persona. The nearly three-decade run of moderate governors will end,” predicted the Morning News. “The candidates, Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp, sit comfortably among the fringes of their respective parties, as evidenced by their words and actions in earning their party nominations.”

Again, as the Morning News opined, the contest between the candidates couldn’t be starker: “the African-American female who rose above her impoverished background to earn a law degree from Yale versus the white male entrepreneur who embraces his small town roots.”

But political consultants and state party bosses would love to blur those distinctions.

As of the latest WSBTV/Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released Sept. 7, the Kemp-Abrams race was a dead heat. The survey showed 45.3 percent of voters supported Kemp, while 44.9 percent planned to vote for Abrams.

However, racial and gender divisions were intense and predictable. Two-thirds of white voters support Kemp. Eighty-five percent of black voters backed Abrams, who would become the first African-American governor in the nation. Men said they’d vote for Kemp by a 53-39 margin, while women went for Abrams 50-39.

So the general election for governor of Georgia comes down to not scaring off independent voters, while at the same time making sure those who backed you in September will be there for you in November.

Georgia Democrats say they’ve already built a solid foundation for Abrams’ campaign. The party created a field network of a dozen offices and claims to have contacted more than a million voters either face-to-face or with some kind of targeted message like direct mail or social media – and that was before the primary.

“She’s got to mobilize and activate voters who are registered who don’t often vote,” Trey Hood, a University of Georgia political scientist, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “And that’s a pretty heavy lift. And the clock is ticking. Black turnout would have to be up from the typical midterm to give her a fighting chance.”

There’s a massive block of Democrats on the left-wing of Georgia’s political scale – close to 2 million out of 3 million registered Dems – who hardly ever vote in midterm elections. It’s those people Abrams needs if she is to win.

To reach those voters, Abrams is pushing a message that includes the left-wing hot-button issues of gun control, legalized abortion and tax policy. But she’s concentrating on what Abrams describes as mainstream issues that moderate voters will find appealing — building a more diverse economy, spending more state money on public schools, and expanding Medicaid.