How Stacey Abrams Won and Why It Matters

By Aimee Allison and Ilyse Hogue

As Stacey Abrams won her party’s primary last night and took one step closer to becoming the first black woman to serve as governor of any state, Georgia is poised to make history. Georgia is now leading the way, and the roadmap to the future of the Democratic Party across the country is clearly written in how last night happened.

While many in the party have defaulted to a strategy of chasing voters who left long ago, Abrams recognizes that real power lies in recognizing and leveraging the real communities powering electoral change at the ground level.

Abrams wrote a new playbook sailing to victory last night by building on the progressive base — black women, pro-choice women, and young people. Her campaign invested in these communities, listened to them, and then deputized them to leverage the broad and diverse social and political networks that come with them. She spent more time in churches, schools, and town halls than money on television and mail, acts that bucked political convention to underscore her intention to have an immediate impact on people’s lives.

We can tell you first hand that the result is a vibrant and electric campaign that reaches all across the state with a fundamental trust that drove people to vote on election day. She leaned into the issues that mattered most, a strategy that turned out voters and led the Democrat closer to overcoming a 230,000 vote gap in November’s general election. Abrams showed that Democrats’ path to victory this November is valuing voters and the issues that matter to them.

This race is a signal to Democrats: to win back power and begin to turn our country around, this must be the future of the party. Investing in leadership that builds a diverse coalition of voters, engaging voters who have been taken for granted in the past, and speaking to issues that have been deemed politically inconvenient is the equation that adds up. An authentic candidate, running on issues that excite, energize, and motivate the base is a winning formula. Stacey Abrams went the extra mile to show us the way, and now we must repay her by doing everything possible to buck conventional wisdom and show that a Democrat can not only win statewide in the South, but she can do it on the strength of embracing progressive values.

And the payment must be in more than lip service. The party must do the kind of deep organizing that is the hallmark of the Abrams campaign. The Abrams campaign organized hundreds of thousands of people of color who were previously unregistered to vote. Abrams founded the New Georgia Project to register the New American Majority — people of color, younger voters 18–29, and women — and worked every day to deeply engage with these voters with the values and issues of great importance to them — not just to win an election but to make our country more just.

Stacey Abrams also made fighting for the essential rights and reproductive freedom of all women a cornerstone of her campaign. Abrams’ victory shows that that when candidates stand by women and our right to decide if, when, and how to grow our families our communities are stronger. To millions of Americans, this isn’t an abstract fight about social issues, it’s the bread and butter issues that allow them to achieve their goals, plan their futures, and support their families. Abrams understood that you can’t support Georgia families — across all racial, ethnic, and gender lines — without supporting their right to manage our own families.

The lessons we’ve learned from Abrams are critical as the most diverse generation in U.S. history — Generation Z — is coming into their own immense political power. The students of Parkland, Dreamers, the young people driving the Movement for Black Lives, the leaders in communities across this country fighting for abortion access, are changing the political dynamic as we know it. This generation does not care about the old rules of politics, the old battle lines or expectation that they should take a back seat and let the “political experts” lead in this moment. They are taking matters into their own hands, and demanding elected officials that will stand with them and fight alongside them.

The pathway to justice and equality for women and families has been written by the great state of Georgia. The Abrams’ campaign realized this early on and did the hard work of connecting with and organizing with this generation. The question now — with huge consequences for November — is whether the Democratic Party will follow suit. The leadership of the party needs to catch up to the new political reality and embrace it. To do so builds a stronger party and a stronger country, and to not do so will cost us dearly.

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Aimee Allison is president of Democracy in Color, host of the Democracy in Color podcast and author of the forthcoming book “She the People.”

Ilyse Hogue is the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.