In the wake of a historic primary election season which resulted in three Black gubernatorial nominees on this November’s ballots, all of them appeared onstage together Thursday at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference.
Ben Jealous, Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum participated in a panel discussion, “The Politics of the New South: History in the Making,” during which they spoke of their hotly contested races in Maryland, Georgia and Florida, respectively. In front of hundreds of loyal supporters filling a spacious ballroom at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in northwest D.C., all three hammered home a simple message.
“We vote, we win,” said Jealous, a former NAACP president who is running against Republican incumbent Larry Hogan. “Politicians don’t give the people courage. The people give the politicians courage.”
Currently, the country has no Black governors, and only two have ever been elected in U.S. history.
However, the three Democratic candidates at the CBC conference tout similar agendas of universal health care, criminal justice reform and support for public education.
Each talked about criticisms from the political establishment in trying to run conventional campaigns.
Abrams, a former minority leader in the Georgia House of Representatives, said in a pro-gun state like hers, she supports gun safety and how she learned to fire a shotgun from her grandmother.
“I am breaking all the rules being a Southern Democrat and talking about gun safety,” she said. “My questions is, why do children have to be in active shooting drills in America?”
The unprecedented diversity of Democratic gubernatorial nominees this election cycle hasn’t gone unnoticed, with political scientist Todd Eberly of St. Mary’s College warning that such results are a harbinger for the GOP.
“The Democratic primaries have produced the most diverse slate of candidates — with regard to race, ethnicity and gender — in U.S. history,” Eberly said Thursday. “Meanwhile, the GOP continues to lag in producing nominees that reflect the growing diversity of the electorate.”
Angela Rye, a CNN political commentator and former executive director and general counsel for the CBC who moderated the forum, said it more succinctly.
“Just know the significance of this moment that we have three [onstage] at the same damn time,” she said.
According to recent polls, Jealous has the biggest challenge ahead, with Hogan holding a double-digit advantage and $9 million in his war chest. Jealous and the Maryland Democratic Party are pushing an initiative to drive one million voters to the polls on Nov. 6 in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1.
A Sept. 6 poll from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV show Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp deadlocked for the governor’s seat in Georgia.
Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, Florida, remains ahead by four percentage points of his Republican challenger, Rep. Ron DeSantis, according to a poll released Wednesday by the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
However, Gillum told the hundreds in attendance Thursday not to believe the polls.
“Dismiss the polls — go vote,” he said. “I’m very clear about what this race means for my children and the children whose names I can’t call.”