The Fate of the Democrats' Future May Lie in Georgia

June 27, 2017 7 min read

In the middle of the last century, Ringgold, Georgia, was the town that expedited the formation of an institution that built the country in that era, namely, early marriage.

At the time, you could get married at the age of 15 — provided you had the consent of your parents or guardian — and, thanks to Ringgold's 45-minute blood test, you could get married quickly.

Word got out rapidly, and this tiny little town just over the Tennessee state line became known as the marriage mecca of the Southeast and the mid-Atlantic. It fulfilled the hasty youthful heart expediently and enabled the young serviceman and his bride to get married before he shipped off to war.

Even the town's name sounded full of marital promise, notwithstanding it was named after a celebrated general rather than a wedding band.

Seventy years later, Stacey Evans, a Democratic representative from that town, hopes to ride today's trend in family life, single parenting, into the Georgia governor's mansion.

She is doing so by chronicling her life story with photos and video clips of the 16 homes of her childhood, and her living with a single mom and no father, and trying to avoid bill collectors or her mother's unsavory boyfriends.

"Once when I was 12 and we lived here," Evans narrates as a video clip of one home darts across the screen, "I called the police while one of them was beating her.

"The police said that they knew him and that he wouldn't do such a thing, so they didn't come, and so, he kept beating her."

On always being "one step ahead of a bill collector," Evans says: "Living like that affects a child. You end up looking for something you can hold onto."

Welcome to the political race in Georgia that America is not paying attention to but should be.

Why?

Because the primary contest between Evans and a fellow Democrat, state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, will have the biggest impact on the future of the national party. It reflects the battle within the national Democratic Party's ranks over where it goes from here.

"Here" in this case is the slinking around of America's minority party with no message, no firepower, no aspirational missive and no plan for how to get out from under all of that.

Abrams comes from the party's urban school of thought, which is that campaigning is all about manpower.

Evans, in contrast, is running a campaign based on a story — an important economic story that appeals to the white blue-collar voters Georgia Democrats lost to Donald Trump.

The question is: Will that story work? Or do Democrats merely need to turn out more of their urban and ethnic base?

They have been saying forever and a day that Georgia is the next state they intend to flip in their favor. They promised to do just that during last November's presidential election, and again in last week's special election in the 6th Congressional District for an open House seat.

But it wasn't even close either time.

It's not that Democrats haven't tried hard in Georgia. They tried to win the Senate race in 2014 with celebrated former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn's daughter, and she lost. They just tried with John Ossoff in the 6th District race, and he lost.

They have to start winning elections in Georgia eventually for Georgia to be a true battleground.

There will be a big question as to what's the best way to win. Is it to merely maximize turnout among African-Americans and transplants in the Atlanta area, or is it try to claw back the rural blue-collar voters that Democrats ancestrally had when they used to win in the state? That is a serious existential question for Democratic operatives.

Both of these women are very strong candidates for governor.

Evans' campaign is about the HOPE scholarship, a scholarship funded by the Georgia Lottery. Her powerful life story, portrayed so well in her campaign video, shows she was in a family cycle of poverty until the scholarship came along.

During Gov. Zell Miller's days in the state capitol, he made Georgia the first state in the South to pass the lottery specifically for college scholarships. Anybody with a B average got one. And everybody else in the South since emulated that.

Evans is literally running right at the trailer park of rural Georgia. One issue with which such people still identify with the Democrats, for the most part, is public schools.

Abrams is a Yale Law School grad known for her fiery speeches, her national profile, a passion for mobilizing and energizing minority voters, and her prolificacy in penning numerous romance novels. Unfortunately for her, she voted to reduce HOPE scholarship funding.

In short, Evans has a message designed to appeal to rural, independent and conservative voters, and Abrams stands for a future in Georgia that is centered in urban Atlanta.

The truth is most Democrats in Washington, D.C., think that the urban Atlanta model is most likely to succeed because of where the numbers are, which makes Republicans strategists in Washington and Georgia happy.

It is the race that nobody is talking about and everyone should be talking about when it comes to the future of both the Democratic and Republican parties. With an exiting Republican governor who is not that popular and a lackluster Republican field in the state facing either an energized progressive or an energized blue-collar moderate, Democrats might finally catch that windmill they've been chasing in the Peach State.

Salena Zito is a CNN political analyst, and a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner. She reaches the Everyman and Everywoman through shoe-leather journalism, traveling from Main Street to the beltway and all places in between. To find out more about Salena and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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