If Stacey Abrams is elected the nation's first black woman governor on Nov. 6, she'll have Georgia's suburbs to thank.
Suburban areas of the state that have long served as Republican strongholds have seen rapid political change thanks to an influx of new residents that have proven to be more diverse and more aligned with Democrats. Those changes have allowed Abrams to stay competitive, and with two weeks to go, she's slightly behind but statistically tied with Republican Brian Kemp, and could become the first Democrat to win statewide in two decades.
The shift in Georgia's suburbs has been occurring for years. The once-reliably Republican Gwinnett and Cobb counties, which are key northern suburbs, voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
“What this suggests generally is this area viewed as a Republican stronghold has become more electorally competitive,” Emory University Political Science professor Andra Gilespie told the Washington Examiner. “If Stacey Abrams does well there, it could be an important building block in an electoral victory for her."
But it's not only the mix of people in Georgia's suburbs that are helping Abrams — they're also growing. Gwinnett has surged to nearly one million residents, while Cobb has more than 750,000 residents.
The new residents are young and not necessarily white. Many newcomers are Hispanic, Asian, and black.
The influx has turned places like the 6th Congressional District, once the pure-red home of former Speaker Newt Gingrich, into a place where Democrats have a real shot at winning. More troubling for the GOP, this new voting base is overpowering the state’s still-reliable rural GOP stronghold, making it possible for Democrats to win statewide.
“The Atlanta metro area, particularly the suburban portion, keeps occupying a greater and greater piece of the state’s electorate,” John Couvillon, head of polling firm JMC Enterprises, told the Washington Examiner. “And it’s now less of a cushion for Republicans because it is more marginal.”
Couvillon released two polls this week that should serve as a warning to the GOP when it comes to Atlanta’s growing suburban voter base. One survey of registered voters in the once-solidly GOP 6th District, made up of parts of Cobb, Fulton, and DeKalb counties, showed Kemp leading Abrams by a mere two points.
By comparison, Gingrich won the district in 1998, his final House election, by 42 points.
A poll of the neighboring 7th District, released Monday by JMC, showed similar warning signs for Republicans. Voters in 7th District favored Abrams over Kemp, 47 percent to 46 percent, the poll found.
The district, comprised mostly of Gwinnett County, is 42 percent non-white. Most voters said they favored GOP control of Congress, but most disapproved of President Trump’s job performance.
“In white-collar suburban areas, Trump underperformed relative to Republicans in the past,” Couvilon told the Washington Examiner. “And you have increasing minority percentages in Gwinnett County. The combination of those things are wearing down Republican dominance in the Atlanta suburbs.”
Couvillon said Trump can help Kemp defeat Abrams by campaigning in rural areas, where strong voter turnout could help counterbalance the Democratic surges in the Atlanta suburbs.
Abrams is also campaigning heavily in rural areas, her campaign spokeswoman told the Washington Examiner, although her effort to win the rural, white vote in Georgia may have just gotten more complicated. Her campaign issued a statement Monday revealing Abrams once participated in burning the state flag on the state capitol steps.
According to her campaign, Abrams participated because at the time, the state flag incorporated the Confederate battle flag. Abrams and Kemp meet Tuesday night for their final debate, where that issue seems likely to be addressed.