This Is How the Democrats Can Win in 2020

CNN/ Newswire | 11/8/2018, 7:11 p.m.
Although Andrew Gillum lost the governor's race in Florida and Stacey Abrams is behind but may yet force a runoffin ...

Although Andrew Gillum lost the governor's race in Florida and Stacey Abrams is behind but may yet force a runoffin 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.

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.