Reporter's notebook

Two Deep South Governors Races Show Where Both Parties Stand In 2018

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 22:  Georgia Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams takes the stage to declare victory in the primary during an election night event on May 22, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.  If elected, Abrams would become the first African American female governor in the nation.  (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - MAY 22: Georgia Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams takes the stage to declare victory in the primary during an election night event on May 22, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. If elected, Abram... ATLANTA, GA - MAY 22: Georgia Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams takes the stage to declare victory in the primary during an election night event on May 22, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. If elected, Abrams would become the first African American female governor in the nation. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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August 31, 2018 6:00 am

The first black woman ever nominated to run for governor by a major party vs. a gun-slinging, “illegal”-hunting secretary of state.

The first black man nominated to Florida’s highest office vs. a Trump acolyte who made 121 appearances on Fox in the past eight months.

It’s easy to draw a line between the gubernatorial races in Georgia and in Florida, two of the country’s largest, most diverse, and most populous states. In the Peach State, Stacey Abrams is facing off against hardliner Brian Kemp; the Sunshine State race is a matchup between Andrew Gillum and Rep. Ron DeSantis.

Both contests will hinge in no small part on race. And the results will serve, for many, as a kind of referendum on where the country is headed two years into the Trump presidency.

DeSantis and Kemp are nativists in the Trump mold who have his full backing. The Florida congressman apparently helped moderate a Facebook group full of racist and anti-immigrant bile. He began this week’s general election campaign by cautioning Floridians that a vote for his black opponent will “monkey this up.”

Kemp, meanwhile, executed mass purges of voter rolls during his eight-year tenure as Georgia secretary of state, in campaigns that critics said targeted black voters. He also took to the road in his “big truck” during the primary campaign, promising to “round up” “criminal illegals.”

On the other side of the aisle, Gillum and Abrams won historic candidacies on the strength of black support in their respective states. Rather than just appealing to African-Americans for their Election Day votes, their campaigns showed that Democrats could represent them in office, too — even in the Deep South.

With such high-stakes at play and such polar opposite candidates at the top of the ticket, these will likely be two of the most-watched campaigns of 2018.

“There’s a very stark choice between the two candidates,” University of Florida professor Michael McDonald said of the Florida race, though he could’ve been talking about either.

“That bodes well for interest among voters and turnout in the general.”

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