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5 Black Women Running for Statewide Office in Georgia Look to Make History

Robbin Shipp, Labor Commissioner candidate

Robbin Shipp, Labor Commissioner candidate

Something fascinating is happening in the state of Georgia that could have national implications: Five Black women are running for statewide office as Democrats in a state that has long been a Republican lock.

Currently, there are just two statewide African-American female officeholders in the United States: Denise Nappier, the state treasurer in Connecticut, and Kamala Harris, the California attorney general.

Astoundingly, in U.S. history there have just been 10 Black women to hold statewide office, as pointed out in a Washington Post profile on the “Georgia Five.”

If all or a few of these candidates in Georgia were able to break through and beat their Republican opponents, it would demonstrate that the demographic changes occurring in the South will soon up-end the national convention wisdom about red states and blue states.

Who are these women in the Georgia Five?

Former State senator Connie Stokes is running for lieutenant governor; Doreen Carter is running for secretary of state; former state representative Robbin Shipp is up for labor commissioner; Liz Johnson is running for insurance commissioner; and Valarie Wilson is up for state schools superintendent.

Do they have a chance? They certainly do. Though President Barack Obama lost Georgia by about 7 percentage points in 2012, which was a difference of about 300,000 votes, there has been such a steady influx of Blacks and Hispanics into Georgia that non-whites now make up almost 45 percent of the population.

The big challenge for these candidates is getting African-Americans and Hispanics to the polls — and raising enough money so that they can let voters know who they are. A recent study sponsored by Rutgers University and a nonprofit group called Higher Heights found that Black women raise an average of $235,000 less than their Black male counterparts when running for office.

Most of the electoral attention in Georgia has focused on Democrats Jason Carter, former President Jimmy Carter’s grandson, running for governor, and Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn, running for U.S. Senator. If Democrats can increase their registration rolls by 3 percent, experts predict that the Democrats have a chance of beating their Republican opponents.

“Let me put it another way. … If just 50 Democratic voters per precinct who didn’t vote in 2010 get out and vote this November — just 50 per precinct — then Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter will win,” the Post quoted first lady Michelle Obama saying at a recent voter registration rally in Georgia.

Black women make up nearly 50 percent of all African-American voters and were 28 percent of the overall voters in the 2010 midterm elections in Georgia. So if the Georgia Five can get some traction with this demographic, they clearly have a shot.

Labor commissioner candidate Shipp is trying to capitalize on bad news to make her case against the incumbent commissioner, Republican Mark Butler. Shipp sent out an email Monday pouncing on Georgia’s dubious distinction as having the worst unemployment numbers in the nation.

“Our labor commissioner and our governor have squandered their responsibility to the citizens of this state,” she said. “It’s time for a significant change. It’s time to increase the state minimum wage. It’s time to expand Medicaid to add jobs to rural areas. It’s time to help Georgians get back to work.”

As pointed out by the Post, Black women in Georgia are beginning to realize their political power: Black women make up nearly 17 percent of the population and hold almost 12 percent of the state’s legislative positions.

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