That he would choose this event, and this city, to try to make amends with black voters was significant. Thursday’s gala was the party’s first major 2018 fund-raiser to be held outside Washington, D.C., and the I Will Vote initiative it supported aims to bolster DNC efforts to register new voters; fight voter-suppression efforts in the United States; and, ultimately, turn out Democrats across the country in November.
High turnout among black voters was key to Barack Obama’s two presidential victories, and dips in participation when he was not on the ballot contributed to the Democratic wipeouts in 2010 and 2014, and to Hillary Clinton’s narrow losses in states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania in 2016. But there are signs of a revival, not only in response to Republican efforts to reverse Obama’s legacy, but also in response to efforts to erect barriers to voting that disproportionately affect African Americans. In Virginia, strong black turnout helped elect Governor Ralph Northam and the state’s second black lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, last November. A month later, black voters—and black women in particular—powered Doug Jones to victory over Roy Moore in Alabama’s special Senate election.
This year, nowhere will black turnout be more crucial to Democratic hopes than in Georgia, where Stacey Abrams is vying to become the first African American woman elected governor of any state. Her nomination over Stacey Evans, a white woman, in May drew a surge of national attention, and the DNC’s decision to hold Thursday’s gala alongside an African American leadership summit in Atlanta brought major party donors to Abrams’s home base.
“Welcome to Georgia,” Abrams told the DNC donors on Thursday, before adding a gentle dig of her own at the party: “It’s about time.”
“Georgia is not a red state,” she continued, setting up one of her signature campaign lines. “We’re just blue and confused.”
Abrams will find out her general-election opponent on Tuesday, when Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle and Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, face off in a Republican primary runoff. Cagle, endorsed by the outgoing Republican Governor Nathan Deal, had been the favorite. But Kemp has caught up to him with a campaign targeting Trump voters, sometimes in an over-the-top fashion. He ran one ad in which he points a shotgun at a fictitious teenage suitor of his daughter. In another, he notes he’s got “a big truck, in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take ‘em home myself.
“Yep, I just said that,” Kemp says in the latter spot. “If you want a politically incorrect conservative, that’s me.”
Trump rewarded Kemp with a tweeted endorsement on Wednesday, and Vice President Mike Pence is headed to Georgia on Saturday to campaign with him. To defeat either candidate, Abrams will need the support of the white Democrats and disaffected Republicans who in 2016 kept Trump to the lowest share of the statewide vote, 51 percent, for any Republican presidential candidate in 20 years. But she’ll also need supercharged turnout from black voters. That was, in part, the goal of Thursday’s event, which featured a speakers lineup of prominent black Democrats, including Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, former Attorney General Eric Holder, and Georgia’s own Representative John Lewis.