Are Georgia Democrats going to relive an old nightmare?

[private]Georgia’s Democratic voters will have their choice of two Staceys in next year’s primary for governor:  state Rep. Stacey Abrams of Atlanta and Rep. Stacey Evans of Smyrna.

There are some striking similarities between the two contenders. They are both attorneys, and they are two of the most intelligent members of the General Assembly.

On most of the major issues, they have taken similar progressive stands, although there are some slight differences here and there.

There is one major difference between the two candidates. Stacey Abrams is black and Stacey Evans is white.

That racial distinction comes to play in their visions of what the Democratic Party should be. Abrams wants to put more effort into energizing black voters who have not previously been engaged in the political process. Evans wants the party to try to reconnect with working class white voters who have been turning away from the Democrats in recent election cycles.

You could make a decent argument for both approaches to this particular issue. If Democrats want to win, they would certainly need to energize black voters. At the same time, they could also gain by supporting issues important to working class families of all colors.

But the events of last weekend show that instead, there may be looming a racial divide that rips the party in two next year.

The occasion was Netroots Nation, a yearly gathering of 3,000 or so progressive activists that was held in Atlanta this year.

Stacey Abrams gave a rousing speech to the activists on Thursday and received a standing ovation from the crowd.

It was nearly impossible for Evans to get through her 10-minute speech because pro-Abrams protesters were chanting loudly and shouting her down. The protesters turned their back on her as they waved signs reading “Trust Black Women” and “Evans = DeVos,” a reference to Donald Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

The starkly different crowd reactions – and the racial animosity displayed towards the white candidate — could spell big trouble for a Democratic Party whose candidates haven’t been able to win a statewide race in Georgia for more than a decade.

If the activities at the Netroots Nation conference are any indication, this is a primary election that could get very ugly before it’s all over.

You could easily have a situation where Abrams wins the primary by energizing black voters, but in the process turns off white voters who don’t bother to vote for her in the general election.

Similarly, if Evans were to win a bitterly contested primary over Abrams, that could result in demoralized black voters staying at home during the general election.

As has been seen before, this kind of division can tear apart the Democratic Party.

Back in 2006, the party’s two major candidates for governor were Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor and Secretary of State Cathy Cox (both of whom are white).

They were the party’s brightest stars at that point in time. Taylor had served in the state Senate before winning two terms as lieutenant governor. Cox had been a member of the Georgia House before winning two elections for secretary of state.

Taylor trailed Cox in the polls during the early months of a primary race that degenerated into name-calling and mudslinging in the final weeks.

It became a political bloodbath between two candidates who clearly had a deep personal dislike for each other. Cox and Taylor both aired hard-hitting commercials that accused each other of lying and double-dealing. Taylor’s campaign, for good measure, also filed two civil lawsuits against Cox and her aides.

Taylor eventually prevailed in the slash-and-burn primary, but it was an empty victory. The nastiness of that campaign turned off quite a few Cox supporters who either sat out the general election or voted for the Republican incumbent, Sonny Perdue.

In November, Taylor drew barely 38 percent of the vote in a crushing loss to Perdue. It was the worst showing ever by a Democratic nominee for governor in Georgia.

Is the Democratic Party headed for a similar debacle because of the upcoming battle between the two Staceys?

Meanwhile, the Republican field of gubernatorial candidates has moved in unison on one of their most potentially divisive issues: whether to sign a religious liberty bill if the General Assembly should pass it.

Late last week, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle ended his brief holdout on the issue and signed a pledge that he, too, would sign a religious liberty bill into law.

That removes a major issue that might have caused him trouble with his opponents and early pledge signers, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, state Sen. Hunter Hill, and state Sen. Michael Williams.

© 2017 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Democratic Party divisions , governor\'s race , Stacey Abrams , Stacey Evans