The high-profile Democrats who lost their 2018 elections are still in the public eye. But not everyone is getting the same kind of attention.
Former Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum, who hoped to be Florida’s first black governor, observed as much in the New York Times. Reporter Astead W. Herndon asked Gillum whether it was “a sign of privilege” that Beto O’Rourke was able to run for president after losing his Senate race.
Gillum said it was.
“There’s no doubt that O’Rourke enjoys a set of privileges in his decision-making that other candidates don’t,” he said. “Can you imagine it for any of the women that are in the race for president or considering a run? They probably could not muse out loud, or in the recesses of their mind have these sorts of conversations and then say them out loud, and think it would be taken seriously or they would be taken seriously.”
Gillum added that O’Rourke has spoken about this himself. “As I understand it, the congressman also recognizes that there is privilege that accompanies him here. That doesn’t make him less deserving of consideration,” Gillum said. “It’s just something that has to be acknowledged.”
Since O’Rourke lost his 2018 U.S. Senate bid in Texas, he has been talked about as a presidential contender. Fans set up a “shadow campaign” for him before he even declared his candidacy. Gillum and Stacey Abrams, who lost a tight race for the Georgia governorship, did not receive nearly as much national attention.
Now, Gillum and Abrams are turning their attention to their home states. It’s not the only similarity. They both grew up in working-class families in the South before attending historically black colleges. During their campaigns, they drew significant support from the black communities that nurtured them and shaped their political worldviews.
Their 2018 elections were also plagued by accusations of voter suppression. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, significant numbers of voters were purged from the polls in both Florida and Georgia. In Florida, Spanish-speaking Americans complained about the lack of materials in Spanish needed to vote. In Georgia, Abrams’s opponent, who as Georgia’s secretary of state happened to oversee the state’s elections, rejected thousands of voter registrations, saying they did not meet the state’s standards. (Over the past decade, Georgia has removed 1.6 million voters from the rolls.)
In response, both Abrams and Gillum have launched grass-roots projects to get voters registered and to the polls in future elections, and to ensure their ballots are counted. Gillum launched an organization that aims to register 1 million Florida voters by the 2020 election. Abrams launched a nonprofit focused on voter reform and education in Georgia.
O’Rourke, meanwhile, just launched his bid for president.
As Herndon noted: "It is striking that the two black candidates are currently going to work in grass-roots organizing and the white candidate is running for president. You don’t have anything else to say on that?
“Listen, man, we’re used to working,” Gillum replied.
Ultimately, too, the work that Gillum and Abrams are doing will help O’Rourke, or whichever Democrat receives the 2020 nomination. Studies show that increased voter turnout benefits Democrats. In what is expected to be a race with high turnout, the organizations run by Abrams and Gillum could make the difference for Democrats on Election Day.