The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Five black women are running for statewide office in Georgia. Here’s why that matters.

There is probably no better example of Georgia being the "new South" than this: Five black women will be on the ballot for statewide offices in November -- a record.

Known as the "Georgia Five," the women are running at a time of major demographic shifts in the state and as Democrats see Georgia as a state that could begin to loosen the GOP's grip on the South. (In actuality, that's happening pretty slowly.)

President Obama lost Georgia by about seven percentage points in 2012, a difference of about 300,000 votes in a state whose growth is overwhelmingly taking place in non-white communities in the Atlanta area.

In gubernatorial hopeful Jason Carter, Senate candidate Michelle Nunn and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, a rising star, Georgia has a trio of name-brand Democrats who are well-positioned to take advantage of the shifting demographics, which find non-whites making up almost 45 percent of the population.

So who are the Georgia Five?

  1. Former State senator Connie Stokes is running for lieutenant governor.
  2. Doreen Carter is up for secretary of state.
  3. Liz Johnson is on the ballot for insurance commissioner.
  4. Valarie Wilson is running for state schools superintendent.
  5. Robbin Shipp  is up for labor commissioner.

The five have received endorsements from top Democratic figures in the state as well as important progressive groups, but have largely gone under the national radar. These types of offices, after all, aren't really the kinds of things people like The Fix generally devote much time to.

All the challenges women face in running for office -- raising money, getting support from their party and convincing voters they have the chops -- are magnified for women of color. Case in point: A recent study showed that black women raise an average $235,000 less than their black male counterparts when running for office.

There isn't much good down-ballot polling for Georgia's races, but most polls suggest that they will be close, with an edge given to Republicans (similar to the gubernatorial and Senate races), because of the state's overall makeup. Democrats want very badly to capitalize on the state's changing DNA and have said that increasing the voter rolls by 3 percent with Democratic voters would mean victory.

"Let me put it another way. . . . If just 50 Democratic voters per precinct who didn’t vote in 2010 get out and vote this November -- just 50 per precinct -- then Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter will win," first lady Michelle Obama said at a recent voter registration rally in Georgia.

As voters, black women will be key to any get-out-the-vote efforts, as they are crucial to the overall turnout of African Americans, who made up 28 percent of the vote in the 2010 midterm elections in Georgia.

And although black women power the black vote, making up almost 60 percent of the voters in that key demographic -- and cast ballots at a higher rate than any other demographic group in 2008 and 2012 -- that has hardly translated to political power.

Currently, only two black women hold statewide office: Denise Nappier, the state treasurer in Connecticut, and Kamala Harris, who is California's attorney general. Going back through history, only 10 black women have served in a statewide office.

Georgia may be the best starting place for black women (and Democrats more broadly) to make up some ground. In the Peach State, black women make up nearly 17 percent of the population and the hold almost 12 percent of the state's legislative positions. Black women also make up 75 percent of the Democratic women in the Georgia state legislature.

(Another likely candidate is North Carolina, according to the same study, in which almost 22 percent of the Democratic state legislators are black women.)

Those numbers come as Democrats are losing power in legislatures nationwide, particularly in the South. And often, candidates for congressional offices and higher statewide offices are drawn from the state legislature.

But if Democrats are to reverse the longstanding trends in the South -- and in Georgia -- black women will surely play a major role.