Georgia voters returned to the polls for a primary runoff election yesterday, following up on three races from the May primary in which no candidate garnered a majority of the vote.
Yesterday’s most high-profile contest was a two-man race for Republican gubernatorial nominee. Brian Kemp, Georgia Secretary of State, beat opponent Casey Cagle by nearly 20 points. In November, Kemp will face Democrat Stacey Abrams, a state representative whose candidacy, if successful, would be historic: Abrams would become Georgia’s first Black governor, Georgia’s first woman governor, and the first Black woman governor anywhere, ever.
Kemp presents a formidable challenge to Abrams, though. Onlookers to yesterday’s runoff noted that the campaign between Kemp and Cagle centered around which candidate best embodied Trump-style conservatism. Abrams’ message to voters couldn’t be more different: her platform emphasizes a need for gun control, criminal justice reform, and equal economic opportunity — in addition to being heavily critical of Donald Trump’s presidency. Georgia voters may be hesitant, if not unlikely, to elect a Democratic governor — they haven’t done so since 1998 — but Abrams’ candidacy is nonetheless an exciting prospect for women of color to lead and be represented in the statehouse.
Yesterday’s two other runoffs in Georgia chose female Democratic nominees for House districts GA-6 and GA-7. Both districts are largely urban, comprising northern suburbs of Atlanta, and both are currently represented by Republicans — and pundits are looking closely at both districts as they represent the kind of seats Democrats need to win to take control of the House in 2018.
GA-6 is currently represented by Republican Karen Handel, the only woman in Georgia’s 16-person Congressional delegation. No matter what happens in November, the 6th Congressional District will continue to be represented by a woman: Democrat Lucy McBath won in yesterday’s runoff and will face Handel in the general election, making the race in GA-6 one of a handful of 2018 races nationwide that will feature two women candidates. McBath has received national attention throughout her candidacy: in campaign ads and speeches, McBath shared deeply personal stories about the fatal shooting of her son as well as her battle with breast cancer, which resonated with voters and underscored her policy priorities like gun control and healthcare reform. If elected, McBath would be just the second woman of color to represent Georgia in Congress.
The general election in GA-7 will feature Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux running against incumbent Republican Rob Woodall. She faces a tough campaign for the next few months: Woodall’s incumbency affords him a significant electoral advantage, and the district has been reliably Republican in recent election cycles.
Georgia ranks 44 out of 50 in RepresentWomen’s 2018 Gender Parity Index, reflecting extremely low numbers of women in Georgia politics. In order to increase women’s representation, Georgia should consider systemic reforms, like ranked choice voting (RCV), to eliminate the need for runoff elections. Additionally, political parties and PACs in Georgia should adopt recruitment targets to ensure that women candidates can run with the same support as male candidates have always been able to. Georgia has a long way to go to reach parity, but systems reforms present a realistic and effective path forward.