Stacey Abrams credited for mobilising black voters in Georgia

It was an endorsement in February from Jim Clyburn, the veteran black Democratic congressman, that resurrected Joe Biden’s flailing presidential primary campaign.

His intervention, just days before the South Carolina primary, led to a swell of support from black voters that propelled Mr Biden to a stunning victory in that contest, spurring him on to clinch his party’s nomination for president.

Nine months later and Stacey Abrams is earning similar plaudits for her significant efforts in the battle to defeat Donald Trump. Ms Abrams, a voting rights activist and former Democratic state legislator in Georgia, is widely credited as the architect behind grassroots efforts to turn “blue” a state that has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in nearly 30 years.

Ben Rhodes, a former top adviser to Barack Obama, spoke for many of Mr Biden’s supporters when he said: “As Democrats chart a course forward as a party, the first person they should turn to is Stacey Abrams.”

In 2014, Ms Abrams set up a group called the New Georgia Project focused on registering and mobilising black voters. Two years ago, she formed another organisation, Fair Fight Action, to tackle voter suppression after she lost the Georgia governor’s race to Republican Brian Kemp by less than a percentage point. Since then, some 800,000 new voters have been registered in the state, many of them African-American.

Stacey Abrams, who set up the New Georgia Project and then formed a group to fight voter suppression © Erik S Lesser/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

As of Friday afternoon, ballots were still being counted in Georgia. But it looked increasingly likely that Mr Biden would emerge the victor there, after early and mail-in votes from black communities in and around the city of Atlanta were tabulated, allowing him to overtake Mr Trump in the vote count.

Voter registration figures, early voting data and county-level election results suggest similar patterns helped Mr Biden edge out Mr Trump in other battleground states, notably Pennsylvania and Michigan.

“We have a really strong data set and pool of evidence that the black vote was crucial, especially as you look at the narrow margins in some of these key states,” said Tom Bonier, chief executive of TargetSmart, a Democratic data company.

He added that voter registration figures in Georgia and nationwide showed a surge of black people signing up to cast ballots in the wake of the killing of George Floyd at the start of the summer.

“Had we not seen this level of engagement and intensity and enthusiasm, among voters of colour . . . we would be looking at a very different outcome,” he said.

Democratic activists have for years recognised that African-Americans were key to their party’s prospects at the ballot box, especially after the 2016 election, when black voter turnout nationwide fell for the first time in two decades.

Even though 91 per cent of black voters cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton, compared with just 6 per cent who backed Mr Trump, analysts said the fact black voters stayed at home in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan — which Mr Trump won by razor-thin margins of 44,000, 22,700 and 10,700 votes, respectively — probably cost Mrs Clinton victory.

“One of the shortcomings of the 2016 election for Democrats was black voter turnout lagged behind 2012, especially among younger black men,” Mr Bonier said. “The evidence we have now in this election is those numbers rebounded, and then some, to historic levels.”

LaTosha Brown, right, co-founder of the Black Votes Matter Fund © Dean Anthony ll

Ms Abrams wrote on Twitter on Friday that her heart was “full”, adding that “so many deserve credit” for Georgia’s surge towards the Democrats.

Georgia voters have not backed a Democratic presidential candidate since 1992. Before that, the last Democrat to be successful in Georgia was Jimmy Carter, a native of the state, back in 1976.

One of the groups Ms Abrams cited was the Black Voters Matter Fund, an Atlanta-based grassroots organisation co-founded by LaTosha Brown.

Ms Brown, who has spent recent weeks on a multi-state bus tour meeting black community leaders, said the election results were the culmination of years of work in engaging underserved communities that politicians had historically ignored.

“Community based organising works. Investing on the ground can make the difference,” she said, explaining that her group’s strategy was to support and fund grassroots organisations rather than take a top-down approach.

Ms Brown led a multi-state bus tour to register black voters © Dean Anthony ll

“We know our community. It’s going to take the churches, it’s going to take the civic groups, it’s going to take the activists, it’s going to take the organisers, it’s going to take the businesses,” she added. “We’ve shown that when you invest in people on the ground, these are the results that you get.”

Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist based in South Carolina and an adviser to Mr Clyburn, agreed.

“This is why so many of us, for so long, have been screaming that you have to treat the black vote as an investment, not an expense,” he said. “Black people knew that this election was about survival, and they voted as such.

“The truth of the matter is when democracy needed recalibration, it was the most consequential voting bloc in American history.”

US presidential election 2020

Stacey Abrams credited for mobilising black voters in Georgia

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