Stacey Abrams, the former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, won Tuesday night’s Democratic gubernatorial primary and is now set to be her party’s nominee in the open race to govern the state. She’ll face the Republican nominee, likely the winner of a runoff in July between Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp.
Despite a favorable national political climate for Democrats, she’ll be an underdog — this is still Georgia — but if she does win she’ll break history on a number of levels. Abrams would be the first woman elected governor of Georgia, the first African American elected governor of Georgia, and the first black woman to govern any state in the United States of America. Indeed, it’s extremely rare for black women to be in state elected executive offices at all. Right now, there’s Jenean Hampton, the Republican lieutenant governor of Kentucky; Connecticut State Treasurer Denise Nappier; and New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver (both Nappier and Oliver are Democrats) — and that’s it.
According to data from Rutgers’s Center for Women in American Politics, the vast preponderance of black women in elective office in the United States represent majority-minority areas, and as there are no majority-black states, this creates very few opportunities for African Americans to win statewide office.
Abrams’s candidacy was contentious among Georgia Democrats, with much of the state party backing Stacey Evans instead, even while virtually all factions of the national party lined up behind Abrams, in part out of a conscious desire to rectify the historical imbalance. With African Americans making up the bulk of Democratic voters in southern states like Georgia — and black women consistently the party’s most supportive demographic overall — there’s a strong sense in the national party that black women deserve a shot at leadership roles, even while skepticism persists in other quarters that black nominees can win over the white swing votes they need to secure victory.