When it comes to the issues that really move Democratic voters, it’s hard to see any daylight between the two candidates fighting for the party’s nomination in the gubernatorial primary.
Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans are both former legislators who share the same first name and a professional background as lawyers.
Both came from modest backgrounds. Abrams grew up as part of a large family in Gulfport, Miss., that later moved to Georgia. With the help of student loans, she was able to get a bachelor’s degree from Spelman, a master’s degree from the University of Texas and a law degree from Yale.
Evans had a hardscrabble upbringing in Ringgold — in her words, living in 16 homes during her first 18 years and “always one step ahead of a bill collector.” Because of the HOPE scholarship, she was the first member of her family to attend college and earned bachelor’s and law degrees at the University of Georgia.
The one real distinction between them is their race: Abrams is black and Evans is white.
Abrams and Evans were both hard-working lawmakers who fought for maintaining (in Abrams’ case) or even expanding (in Evans’ case) the sacred HOPE college scholarship program.
When the House of Representatives was debating a bill in the 2012 session that would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks, Evans was nine months pregnant and on the verge of delivering her daughter, Ashley.
She made an emotional videotaped statement that was played in place of a floor speech, pleading with her fellow lawmakers not to restrict a woman’s right to choose.
And yet, when Planned Parenthood Southeast made their endorsement in the governor’s race, they ignored Evans and gave their backing to Abrams.
They mentioned Abrams’ service on the board of NARAL Pro-Choice Georgia and her free legal work for women seeking abortions. But they also noted Abrams’ opposition to the same 20-week abortion ban that Evans so eloquently spoke against as a legislator.
That’s the way it’s gone with most of the endorsements from the major organizations. You have two candidates who have sincerely fought the good fight on the issues that matter most to these groups. In many instances, the organizations would note that the two candidates were so well-qualified that they couldn’t make a choice and would offer their support to both of them.
But Abrams has been the one to win the bulk of these endorsements from organizations like the Georgia Association of Educators and the gay rights advocacy group Georgia Equality.
Jeff Graham, Georgia Equality’s executive director, pointed to the one real difference that seems to divide the campaigns of Abrams and Evans: the paths they see to a potential victory in November.
Abrams has been trying to sign up and motivate a more diverse group of new voters who typically don’t vote or have rarely voted in past elections. Evans, on the other hand, believes there are votes that can be harvested by going after the more moderate independents or those who are disaffected Donald Trump voters that might be persuaded to come back to a Democrat.
It’s a strategy of persuading those who don’t vote versus those who do vote but might be lured to the other side.
“Not only is she exceptionally strong on LGBTQ issues, I believe she (Abrams) has an effective strategy to win in November,” Graham said.
The organizations who have been issuing these endorsements insist that they underwent a “thorough process” in evaluating the two candidates before making a decision.
Given the fact that Abrams and Evans are well-qualified candidates who have nearly identical positions on issues that matter to these groups, you wonder how thorough that process really was.
So far, neither campaign seems to have made much of a dent among the target audience with their approach.
A poll conducted by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs for Atlanta media outlets indicated that 52 percent of likely Democratic voters are still undecided less than a month before the primary. About 33 percent of those surveyed said they supported Abrams, while 15 percent are backing Evans.
Neither candidate is close to a majority, so they both have plenty of room to grow.
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report.