By Chair DuBose Porter via The Hill
ATLANTA — Doug Jones’s win in Alabama was no miracle, no aberration in the political ecosystem, and no supernatural rarity limited to chance. The victory was deserved and it demands a fundamental rethinking of political operations in the deep South and elsewhere around the country. It sounds an alarm for Democratic investors that the time to dig in for 2018 is now, not in September.
Data sources and intelligence from the ground make it plain that the rise of black voter turnout was not a reaction against Roy Moore. Rather, success reflected the direct result of real investment that truly valued African American voters and a candidate who stood for policy important to the community. Conveniently for Democrats across the nation, these are the same policies the Democratic Party is becoming less and less afraid of championing, as a Republican White House and a conservative Congress try harder and harder to silence us.
Jones understands the source of change. In his victory speech on election night, he thanked the African American voters of Alabama. But to transform this win into a strategy for future celebrations, Democrats must take bold action and cut against our tendency to play it safe. Instead, our party must turn what has become an archaic formula for winning elections upside down, and we must do it now.
Allow me to lay out the case for Georgia in numbers to demonstrate why this is both time sensitive and imperative. Where Alabama’s white electorate is 70 percent, Georgia’s is only 55 percent, and Georgia Democrats can count on a reliable 23 percent of that white vote, even in tough years. While Alabama’s African American electorate is roughly a quarter of the population, Georgia’s is more than 40 percent and a coalition of African American, Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander voters comprise 45 percent of our electorate, and is rising.
Recall that Georgia outperformed Ohio in 2016. With just $100,000 in field investment from the Clinton campaign, Georgia was just shy of matching the vote deficit of neighboring battleground state North Carolina, where more than $30 million in investment poured in. Perhaps most plainly put, Donald Trump won Alabama with 62.1 percent of the vote. In Georgia, he won with just 51.3 percent. Where Alabama Democrats had to start to secure their victory, Georgia begins well more than 10 points bluer and nearly 20 percent more of our population are voters of color.
Georgia will be a minority majority state in just a few years, but we would be foolish to wait until then to chase our impending success. The tipping point for Democrats is not when our state becomes majority minority. The tipping point is critical mass, assuming the tools and resources are in place to create the infrastructure to turn out this coalition of voters of color, young people, and progressive white voters. The tipping point is here. And if you look at Arizona, Florida and other Sunbelt states, you’ll see a similar door of opportunity opening. As populations shift in our direction, our political strategies must catch up and race ahead.
What Georgia and other similarly situated state parties require now is early investment so that on the ground political operatives can build real political strength and infrastructure within the communities of our robust coalition. State parties, and our democracy in general, can’t wait until after our primary elections to get started. Late money to put ads up on TV advocating for one particular candidate to persuade dwindling Independent voters is no longer a viable primary option, and we must realize this before it’s too late.
It is equally shortsighted to think that only bad Republican candidates are driving Democratic success or that such success is a fluke. Replicating the win in Alabama is not impossible because the success of the Jones campaign was not an autonomous miracle. Let’s remember, Gov. John Bel Edwards in Louisiana, Gov. Roy Cooper in North Carolina, Gov. Ralph Northam and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax in Virginia were not some deviant quirks of Southern politics. They are solid victories changing progressive policies in the South. Jones joined the trend. He didn’t start it.
The win in Alabama laid out the steps for success and all we need to do is follow them. We cannot take for granted our base, nor can we ignore the thousands of low propensity voters of color in the South simply because they haven’t self-activated into super voters. We must invest in early communication, build trust and strengthen our politics as a party in a way that respects and values every Democratic voter. It is our job as the Democratic Party to go to our voters in new and innovative ways, and this work needs to begin now.
DuBose Porter is chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia.