Democratic congressional candidate Ilhan Omar is greeted by her husband's mother after appearing at her midterm election night party in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Miller
Minorities, LGBT make history in 2018 midterms
01:33 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Peniel Joseph is the Barbara Jordan Chair in Ethics and Political Values and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is also a professor of history. He is the author of several books, most recently “Stokely: A Life.” The views expressed here are his.

CNN  — 

Although Andrew Gillum lost the governor’s race in Florida and Stacey Abrams is behind but may yet force a runoff in another close contest in Georgia, the two candidates offered a blueprint for how progressive Democrats can win both statewide and national elections.

Gillum and Abrams represented a new generation of Democratic politicians, who better reflect the party’s multiracial base, its reliance on black women voters and its ability to appeal to millennials and baby boomers by advocating policy issues such as free college tuition and Medicare for all.

For many Americans, Tuesday’s midterm elections served as battleground in a larger political war over the soul of the nation. Nationally, both races were a referendum on Donald Trump’s toxic impact on American political culture. Trump, of course, made both races about him, treating the Republican candidates, Ron DeSantis in Florida and Brian Kemp in Georgia, as handpicked surrogates.

Trump played to his base by exploiting racial fears about immigration, the prospect of Florida and Georgia electing their first black governors, and anxieties over the perceived loss of white privilege.

Both Gillum and Abrams should be proud of the campaigns they ran, which harkened back to the idea of E pluribus unum: “Out of many, one.”

Gillum and Abrams took a page out of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s notion of a “beloved community” by arguing that America’s strength resided in its increasingly diverse population.

At the same time, they both personified a generation of relatively young politicians attuned to the deep racial, social and economic divisions that have only increased against the backdrop of the Trump presidency.

On this score, they ran as unapologetic progressives in deep red states, trying to shatter the racial glass ceiling that has witnessed only two black governors – Virginia’s Doug Wilder in 1989 and Massachusetts’ Deval Patrick in 2006 – ever elected in American history.

Gillum, who lost by less than 1%, proved that a black, progressive Democrat could almost win in a state where the President owns a home and that voted for Trump in 2016.

stacey abrams
Abrams vows to remain in gubernatorial race
01:50 - Source: CNN

Abrams performed honorably, her nomination and campaign a testament to the millions of black women voters whom the Democratic Party has increasingly relied on to win elections (most recently the special Senate election in Alabama), but slow to embrace as political candidates in municipal, statewide and national elections.

In the following weeks we will be able to better parse out the specific reasons for the results in Florida and Georgia, but voter suppression will be surely atop the list.

The Republican Party in Florida and Georgia used the demise of the enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act after the 2013 Supreme Court Shelby v. Holder decision to make it harder for Democratic-leaning constituencies to votes – especially, but not exclusively, people of color and the young.

Florida’s DeSantis took a cue from Trump’s playbook and warned Gillum not to “monkey the race up” in a naked display of race baiting.

Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, led what amounted to a coordinated effort to purge blacks from the voter rolls, spread false rumors that Abrams encouraged undocumented immigrants to vote and appeared in an ad before the primary election loading a rifle to prove his National Rifle Association bona fides.

While Democrats must surely be disappointed, both states offer a blueprint for turning red states blue in 2020 and beyond.

Historically red states such as Florida, Georgia and Texas (where US Rep. Beto O’Rourke ran a surprisingly robust campaign in defeat against incumbent Ted Cruz) are trending Democratic, buoyed by an infusion of voters who are younger, more liberal, racially diverse and politically progressive than ever before.

We can take three preliminary lessons from Tuesday night’s elections, with Democrats projected to control the House of Representatives for the first time in eight years but underperforming in senatorial races (where Senate Democrats had 26 seats up for grabs to the GOP’s nine).

john avlon 11.07
How 2018 midterms compare to past elections
02:13 - Source: CNN

Voting rights matter and remain too precarious in the world’s richest democracy. Millions of Americans remain locked out of participating in our political system through no fault of their own. There is no federal system of nationwide voter registration, which is left to the purview of states.

The idea that demography is destiny – that the browning of America would fundamentally change our democracy – continues to be delayed through voter suppression tactics that include reducing the number of polling places in majority-minority precincts, curbing or eliminating early voting, introducing burdensome ID requirements that privilege gun licenses over college IDs.

All of these measures add up to a modern-day poll tax inspired by the Jim Crow era’s efforts to preclude all Americans from voting.

The Obama coalition is alive, well and growing. Nationally, the Latino vote came out in higher numbers than ever for a midterm election, and the black vote proved robust as well.

Young and first-time voters came out nationally in droves. Gillum came the closest to knitting together the kind of multiracial political coalition that twice elected the nation’s first black President, Barack Obama. But Abrams and O’Rourke each shone brightly.

Overt racism, once thought to have been eradicated from our post-civil rights body politic, is back with a vengeance in American politics. From racist calls targeting Abrams to Trump’s characterization of Gillum as a “thief” and his astonishingly wrongheaded efforts to link Democrats to caravans of undocumented immigrants via an ad reminiscent of Willie Horton, racial prejudice and nativism fueled the GOP firewall.

Yet there is ample reason to consider Tuesday’s results a victory for America that goes beyond party or ideology. A new generation of progressive Democrats, led by women of color such Ayanna Pressley in Massachusetts and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, arrived on the national scene in both victory and defeat. Colorado elected the nation’s first openly gay governor in Jared Polis, and Rachael Rollins became the first African-American woman elected to district attorney in Suffolk County, Massachusetts (Boston).

Progressive Democrats, especially women and people of color, made history in victory and defeat. Tuesday night’s winners will immediately change the makeup of representation in our democracy.

Those who lost may well have a deeper, long-term impact by transforming the national political trajectory of the Democratic Party. In a series of close defeats, the party of the New Deal and Great Society that has, over the last several decades (and despite the rise of Obama) lost its identity, finally found its voice again.