The Centipede

Beto O’Rourke and Stacey Abrams; The Politicians Changing the Democratic Party

Peter Connolly ’19

     The Old South has been a Republican stronghold for the past twenty-five years, but two Democrats are threatening that security by running for statewide office. If Stacey Abrams and Beto O’Rourke, two huge underdogs, end up winning their respective races, it bodes well for the Democrats chances this coming election and for the future of their party.  

     Stacey Abrams has already made history as the first black woman to win the nomination of a major political party in the U.S. If she beats Brian Kemp to secure the Georgia Governorship, she will be Georgia’s first Democratic governor in twenty years.

     Abrams’ campaign strategy has not been to compromise traditional liberal values but to emphasize how those policies will help all Georgians. She rarely criticizes her opponent, Brian Kemp, and instead focuses on issues like Medicaid expansion and public education funding. As the minority leader of the Democrats in the Georgia Statehouse for the past six years, she is using her record and the respect she garnered from her Republican colleagues to further stress this message. One of her Republican colleagues in the state house, Rep. Allen Peake, referred to her as “brilliant” when it came to her knowledge of legislative affairs and the ability to negotiate deals. A recent poll, by WSB Atlanta, putting Stacey Abrams just two percentage points behind her Republican competitor Brain Kemp speaks to the effectiveness of campaign strategy.    

     Her strategy runs in stark contrast to her opponent Brian Kemp, who has declared that he will “round up illegals” himself and showed an ad that depicted him forcing a potential suitor for his daughter to swear fealty to the second amendment while he sits on the porch with a shotgun on his lap. Brian Kemp is a strong Trump supporter who won a close primary by drifting far to the right. His campaign rhetoric is eerily similar to Trump. Throughout the campaign, he has accused Abrams of being funded by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and “loved” by Hillary Clinton. As Abrams works for the vote of all Georgians, Kemp is aiming for a much smaller electorate with the hope that his inflammatory rhetoric will drive up turnout among conservatives.  

     Beto O’Rourke is another charming southern Democrat who could be the first Democrat to win a statewide office in Texas in the past 25 years. He has struck a chord with many moderates despite his strong liberal policies. He represents the border city of El Paso and frequently uses the statistic that marks it as one of the safest cities in America as a strong rebuke of Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric and advocacy for the wall.

     O’Rourke has refrained from attacking his opponent, Senator Ted Cruz, and instead focuses on Texas’ future. Many praised his response to the NFL debate over players taking a knee during the anthem, and I think it encapsulates his campaign and the tone he has struck throughout it. He stood firm in his belief that players have the right to take a knee but also acknowledged the right to disagree for the current and former members of the armed forces before pivoting to key civil rights examples of peaceful protest and the effect it had on America. In a time of such divisive rhetoric, it’s leaders like Beto O’Rourke, that don’t attack or dehumanize their opposing side but acknowledge multiple perspectives and use positive examples to support their claims. This strategy could not only help O’Rourke win but also elevate the current national discussion and bring about more civility and level-headedness.

     Both of these politicians inspire hope and bipartisan cooperation, but not with the gusto and big speeches that made up President Obama’s campaigns. Beto O’Rourke has visited all 254 counties in Texas, something no Texas politician has done in decades, and Stacey Abram’s campaign slogan is “A Movement for ALL Georgians”. These values run in stark contrast to Trump, who vehemently supports both of their competitors, with his divisive rhetoric and dark vision of the world.

      One of the most prominent Democrats to win a statewide office in the South was named Bill Clinton, and he carried the Democrats to the White House after 12 years of Republican control. Who knows where Abrams and O’Rourke will go, but if they win their races, the Democrats have a bright future ahead of them.

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