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Georgia is one of the states holding primaries this coming Tuesday. The two Democrats running against each other for governor there are both women named Stacey. They are both lawyers. They're both former state legislators. And they're both calling for similar progressive policies, including expanding Medicaid. But Stacey Abrams is black. Stacey Evans is white. Their campaigns have focused on a question that vexes Democrats across the country - how the party can win with different racial groups. NPR's Asma Khalid reports.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Stacey Abrams launched her campaign in Albany, a city in southwest Georgia where nearly three-quarters of the residents are black. It was symbolic. She believes Democrats keep losing statewide elections because they're focused on winning over moderate-white Republicans.
STACEY ABRAMS: Political analysts keep looking to not only what the structure of Georgia is, but they're also looking at the playbook that was used in Georgia. And that's an old playbook. It's an old playbook that never invested in any of these communities of color in Georgia.
KHALID: Abrams is convinced the only way a Democrat can win is by engaging with potential new minority voters who've often been overlooked. But her opponent, Stacey Evans, has a different strategy - to energize the base and convert voters. Here she is at a debate earlier this week on Georgia Public Broadcasting.
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STACEY EVANS: I want to go into the suburbs of Georgia and talk to moderate voters about why progressive policies, like restoring tuition-free technical college, will help our economy. And I know that when we do that, we will get votes.
KHALID: She's also attacking Abrams for not being progressive enough. Her main criticism is that Abrams gutted a scholarship program that disproportionately hurt black high-school students. And it's an effective attack - three times in two days black voters on the campaign trail asked Abrams about it. Gary Morgan (ph) stopped her in a mall parking lot.
GARY MORGAN: But you voted for that.
ABRAMS: Because otherwise, nobody would have gotten anything. The Republicans wanted us to eliminate any student getting the Hope Scholarship who didn't pass the standardized tests.
KHALID: Abrams is convincing. And by the end of the conversation, Morgan says he'll give money to her campaign, and then he offers her some advice.
MORGAN: We don't vote for just black people as much as white people like to think that. We vote for which ones that are going to really represent us.
ABRAMS: I know. I'm going to...
MORGAN: You got to show that she's a hypocrite...
ABRAMS: Well, I...
MORGAN: ...Because she's got a strong ad against you.
ABRAMS: She does.
MORGAN: And it's damning...
ABRAMS: It is.
MORGAN: ...To our community.
KHALID: Abrams, the black candidate, has white supporters. And Evans, the white candidate, has black supporters. It is overly simplistic to say this election is about race. But race is in the atmosphere. Evans was criticized for a video that showed her face blending into Martin Luther King Jr. And there are comments that seem racially charged. One white voter told me Evans had better manners than Abrams. Lisa Cunningham (ph) is an African-American supporting Evans.
LISA CUNNINGHAM: Let's just be real. And I'm going to say something Stacey can never say. I'm from Georgia. Stacy Abrams cannot win the state of Georgia. Period.
KHALID: I asked her what she means.
CUNNINGHAM: Color. I'm going to address the elephant in the room. An African-American person of her stature cannot today win in the state of Georgia in the general election.
KHALID: Abrams supporters think that's ridiculous. Cheryl Moses (ph) points to Abrams' credentials. She was the state House minority leader for seven years.
CHERYL MOSES: Abrams' leadership history definitely gives her an edge. And so having to finesse that terrain - because you really have to cross both sides of the aisle.
KHALID: But there are still big challenges for whoever wins the Democratic primary. Her strategy, whichever strategy it is, will face a big test in November because Georgia is still a state that consistently elects Republican candidates statewide. Asma Khalid, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.