Opinion | Stacey Abrams and Lauren Groh-Wargo: How to Turn Your Red State Blue

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By 2018, the state party had become a professionalized and responsive organization ready for the $40 million effort the Abrams for Governor campaign orchestrated. Years of deliberative behind-the-scenes work that was rarely covered in the news media or discussed at donor conferences had improved both local and national trust of the state party, which in turn helped raise money and deliver victories in 2020 and 2021.

For 10 years, we carried around charts of Georgia’s demographic and registration projections, as well as one that showed shrinking margins of victory for Republicans in races for the Senate, the governorship and the presidency over time. That way, we could demonstrate that we were gaining momentum with each election cycle and that while demography was not destiny, it was an opportunity we were actually seizing.

Historically, the Democratic Party has failed to cultivate Black, Latino, Asian-American and Native American staff members to work in campaign roles outside of the area of field operations, where they were often expected to talk only to their own ethnic identity groups or people of color in general. To win in the 21st century, Democrats must cultivate and hire people of color in the central areas of communications, fund-raising, research, operations and management. Diversity in staffing is more than a nice nod to our multicultural party. Our success is built on diverse coalitions, and Democrats must have culturally competent staff members.

With this in mind, we cultivated a new generation of political operatives, organizers and fund-raisers from the very start. Stacey intentionally hired staff that looked like the diverse state of Georgia, and we augmented their work with a robust internship program. Year-round staff members, interns and fellows worked on the legislative session, learning the policy issues that affected Georgians. And every two years, we hired even more young people for the election cycle, training them to run campaigns, guide communications and organize in the legislative districts where we knew we could one day win but also where losing was highly likely. This new class of operatives came from every region of the state, carrying the concerns of their communities with them.

Cultivating a new political dynamic in state politics often puts you at loggerheads with the political operatives and professional consultants who have dominated Democratic politics. Bringing in new voices and changing the traditional conversation about how to win does more than defy the status quo. It invites an existential crisis and threatens livelihoods. To build a new battleground state, any leaders pushing this evolution will face resistance and, at times, open warfare from those who are on their side of the aisle but also on the other side of the struggle for ascendancy. The painful truth is that internecine warfare isn’t simply a Republican problem — far from it. Failure can come not only at the ballot box but also in denunciations of this approach to coalition-building at party meetings or in conversations with donors or in the pages of the local paper.

The established political theory of victory in Georgia held that Democrats had hit their limits in Black turnout and that the key to winning was to regain white support for Democrats from Republicans and, crucially, to position ourselves to be more like Republicans to accomplish that goal. To be fair, this widely held belief continues to govern much of Democratic politics. But the composition of Georgia offered a real-time test of what was possible. If we could build the registration, turnout, engagement and support from every community — Black, white, Latino, Native American, Asian-American — we could manifest a new political reality.

Our approach was rooted in the demographic numbers and in the moral clarity provided by an authentic, multiracial, multiethnic, multigenerational and truly statewide coalition. More important, we understood that the transformation of what had become a solidly red state was a continuing campaign and must not be centered on one election or one leader.

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