Yesterday, Montana Governor Steve Bullock announced that he was running for President of the United States. That makes him the twenty-second candidate in this primary race.
In response to Bullock’s entering the race, Political Twitter lashed out – hard – questioning why he’d pursue an all-but-sure to fail presidential bid, when a Senate run seems so much more plausible. And needed.
Some compared Stacey Abrams’ recent decision not to pursue a Senate seat with Bullock’s dive into presidential waters. And those comparisons were not kind. A few particularly naive tweeters described both Abrams and Bullock's choices as selfish; putting themselves and their own ambitions before their party and country. While I understand the simple strategy underlying these comparisons -- that Bullock and Abrams were both positioned well for senate bids because of their ability to make massive inroads in red, pro-Trump states -- the logic is flawed.
Pundits and political strategists balked at the notion that Stacey Abrams, a black woman, would be a viable statewide candidate. They openly mocked those who called Georgia a swing state. But, even in the face of rampant voter suppression, Stacey Abrams still managed to turn out 1.9 million voters and earn 49% of Georgia's votes (those that were allowed to be cast). In the aftermath of her very-near victory, Monday Morning quarterbacks, all former nay-sayers, are running laps online. “She's the only one who can do it! She owes us this!”
The thing is: Stacey Abrams said NO, and she just might know better than we do about what's best for her. Radical, I know.
There is a compelling case to be made that Bullock would be better suited for a Senate run. The presidential primary has over 20 people in it and he is one of few Democrats who can win in Montana. Trump won Montana by 20 points. Montana is also 89% white. What many political scientists will tell you is that the voting patterns of white voters are largely affected by the amount of non-white voters who live around them. The whiter a state is, the more likely they are to swing between the two major parties if they like a particular politician, so Bullock is uniquely qualified to win a Senate seat in Montana.
Relatedly, Gov. Laura Kelly of Kansas, like Abrams, ran against a corrupt Secretary of State in 2018, winning her race. Kelly turned out core Democratic constituencies such as Native Americans and African-Americans but Kansas is 83% white. Kelly's victory hinged more critically on the massive swing of white voters to her, than on minority turnout.
Georgia is 55% white, and that number is shrinking by the day.
Georgia will be majority-minority by 2024. With Black voters making up 32% of the population, and fast-growing Latino and Asian populations: the voting patterns of white voters, particularly in minority-heavy Deep South states like Georgia, as well as South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana have become extremely polarized. In the 2014 midterm elections, white voters in these five states voted 61 more points Republican than the entire nation. Georgia has been able to counter this polarization with northern Black transplants, and white transplants from liberal fields like technology and film moving to the Metro Atlanta area en masse. Kemp’s success in 2018, scraping through the general with 50 percent of the vote largely relied on squeezing out the votes of rural white Georgians, preying on the racially conservative attitudes of this cohort, but that strategy has no more cycles left to work.
The voter mobilization effort Stacey Abrams ran in 2018 accelerated this transition, one she had been planning for well over a decade. As she sits out the United States Senate race, it is important to remember that it was never supposed to be for her benefit alone. The state is becoming less white and more progressive, and she has cracked the door open for other Democrats to walk through. Leader Abrams should not be chastised and treated as a mule who should launch a grueling and taxing 18 month campaign so that the political class in Washington, D.C. is satisfied. Georgia has homegrown candidates, consultants, field organizers, fundraisers, and activists who can mobilize and secure a victory for Georgia Democrats in 2020. In the meantime, through her organizations Fair Fight Action and Fair Count, to end voter suppression and improve the accuracy of census efforts, Stacey Abrams is doing work that will have implications for generations that are yet to come, and that is more important than any Senate seat.