Md. Senate primary proves that Black women are electable – if we elect them

By Jessica Mackler and Fatima Goss Graves

Jessica Mackler, a resident of Bethesda, is president of EMILYs List, the nation’s largest resource for women in politics dedicated to electing Democratic pro-choice women up and down the ballot.

Fatima Goss Graves is the president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center Action Fund, and a co-founder of the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund.

All eyes were on Maryland for the high-stakes Democratic primary, where Angela Alsobrooks secured the Democratic nomination for Maryland’s open U.S. Senate seat.

At the center of this primary was the notion of electability. Conventional understanding of electability is the idea that the most electable people, those likeliest to win, are the candidates with the most money, or who look the most like the ones we’ve always elected.

But Alsobrooks’ commanding victory — despite being outspent 10-to-1 by a millionaire opponent — debunks this trope and shows what we at EMILYs List and the National Women’s Law Center Action Fund have long known: Black women are electable because of their records and lived experiences, and we must redefine our understanding of electability to reflect this.

This was on full display in Maryland’s Democratic primary. Alsobrooks’ opponent David Trone spent more than $61 million in personal funds, breaking Senate primary campaign records and boldly claiming that his wealth made him the stronger candidate for the general election. Meanwhile, Alsobrooks assembled an incredible coalition by running on the strength of her record and the relatability of her lived experiences with critical constituencies.

Because of this, she won more votes in a hotly contested primary than the entire Republican primary field combined. Despite the media perpetrating myths around what makes for a successful candidate, voters bucked the electability trope to take the first step toward electing Maryland’s first Black senator.

Women, especially women of color, face immense obstacles when running for office compared to candidates who fit the “electability” mold. These obstacles range from biases around what lived experiences translate into strong elected leadership, to the systemic barriers of accessing funding from party committees and political action committees.

Alsobrooks, a groundbreaking leader in the community, overcame these obstacles by running on her record, connecting with voters through a message that highlighted the ways she’s already delivered for Marylanders as county executive and state’s attorney for Prince George’s County. It is precisely her history and demonstration of leadership, her lived experience, and her unwavering advocacy for her community that made her electable and able to build a winning coalition.

Alsobrooks also proved that electability is about championing the issues that matter most to voters — like reproductive freedom, investments in paid leave, and child and elder care — and an ability to draw the strongest possible contrast to Republican extremism. Entering the general election, Alsobrooks is already calling out Republican Larry Hogan’s anti-abortion record and allies. Doing so from her vantage point as a Black woman and a mother fighting for her daughter’s rights enables her to speak to voters in a way Hogan simply cannot.

In a state and a country where the people are resoundingly on the side of reproductive freedom, electability should hinge on effectively representing the views of the majority and protecting fundamental rights, not on how much money a candidate can bankroll, or what they look like. By running a campaign that spoke directly to the women of Maryland, Alsobrooks capitalized on a desire to shake things up and elect a woman to Maryland’s 10-person, currently all-male, congressional delegation.

Time and time again, women of color, and Black women especially, have been told that they can’t win. They’ve been told that the odds are stacked against them, or that someone else is a better fit. But we also know that when Black women serve in office, they are the best champions for women and women of color. If elected, Angela Alsobrooks will be the fourth Black woman to serve in the U.S. Senate, following in the footsteps of Carol Moseley Braun, Vice President Kamala Harris, and former EMILYs List President Laphonza Butler.

Issues like abortion rights, gun violence prevention, and economic stability — all of which have outsized impacts on women of color — will dominate this election and reorient what electability means. Up and down the ballot, it’s women of color who can and will champion these issues best by bringing their own lived experiences into the halls of Congress and the White House.

Maryland voters have shown that our understanding of electability can, and must, change. Angela Alsobrooks’ win shows us that we should not be afraid to support candidates who may seem like they’re outmatched based on outdated measures of electability. This November, in Maryland and nationwide, voters have the opportunity to continue to redefine the idea of electability and usher in a new era of what it means to be a serious candidate for office.

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