Perhaps the vice president was not familiar with Georgia’s vibrant film industry, or perhaps he assumed workers in that booming sector here do not belong in the South. This week, however, the nation’s attention turns to Georgia when the Democratic Party hosts its fifth presidential debate at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta. The choice of location pays tribute not only to the industry’s deepening investment here but also to Democrats’ growing ability to win statewide and the role we can play in helping Democrats reach 270 electoral votes. Georgia is a state Democrats can and must win.
No Democratic presidential candidate has won Georgia since 1992. But over the past decade, Republican margins of victory in statewide elections have declined steadily, from eight points in the 2012 presidential election to five points in the 2016 presidential race and 1.4 points in the 2018 governor’s race. Any clear-eyed review of the numbers makes clear that Georgia is on the precipice of political change. Where Virginia sat a few cycles ago, Georgia sits today.
And we are not alone. The changing demographics of our country suggest that once out-of-reach Sun Belt states such as Arizona and Texas are now within range of Democratic victory. Not guaranteed, by any means, but certainly worth the effort.
Why is that? Here in Georgia, our rapidly diversifying population includes the youngest and most heavily African American population of any battleground state. Political participation among voters is increasing here. Among newcomers to the state, who are many, Democrats outperform Republicans by a 30-point margin. Multiple state polls have shown President Trump’s approval underwater in Georgia.
To be candid, both parties cling to decaying fallacies about Georgia. Given the track record since 1992, many national Democrats still believe this state is beyond reach and not worth the investment. Too many of our party’s consultants continue to urge Democratic candidates to speak only to “swing voters” — and others ignore data and insist the state is not competitive.
Republicans, meanwhile, rely on old data to justify the many ways to limit a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, though more than 70 percent of registered voters here support Roe v.Wade. They put forward small ideas on health care, though 3 in 4 registered voters support full Medicaid expansion for about 500,000 Georgians. These two Republican priorities alone present tremendous opportunities for Democrats in Georgia.
But Republicans do not simply take extreme positions; they seek to take away our right to vote. The voting roll purges, stricter registration laws, closed polling places and restrictions on early voting witnessed in 2016 and 2018 only preview what will come in 2020. These are the latest battles in a century-long effort to disenfranchise African American voters and other voters of color, as well as the young and the poor. For all the progress made, obstacles remain.
While the candidates are committed to fighting voter suppression, the issue has not been given adequate focus in the primary campaign discourse. Thus far, not a single debate question has addressed the issue. On this and other matters, Georgians and other voters across the Sun Belt — particularly people of color — deserve to hear what candidates plan to do if elected. At the same time, no one debating Wednesday night calls the Sun Belt home.
I know that shifting the paradigm of power does not come easily. My parents were active in the civil rights movement, and my father was arrested as a teenager while registering black voters. The battle to empower people of color and fully engage the disenfranchised is a perennial task, but our nation has no higher a calling than to make real the promise of our pledge: liberty and justice for all.
As the election nears, many in both parties will continue to present false choices: White voters or voters of color? Swing voters or low-propensity voters? The Midwest or the Sun Belt? I reject these binary choices, and the Democratic nominee must, as well. I advocated strongly for a Democratic debate to come to Georgia because this is where the fight for our nation will be lost and won. And I am confident the eventual ticket will have Georgia on its mind.