Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams could make history tonight in two of the largest Southern states in the country. (Getty)

Arguably the most hotly contested and watched races in today’s midterm elections will be whether Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams will become the first female African American governor in the history of the United States, and if Mayor Andrew Gillum can become the first Black governor in Florida.

The tight races have garnered its share of national attention – and controversy. For both Abrams and Gillum to make history, the two Democrats will not only need large turnouts from Black and Latino voters, they must also receive a fair share of whites, particularly white women voters, in order to win.

Andrew Gillum thegrio.com
Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum poses for a photo with a young fan during a campaign stop in his bid for governor, Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, in Crawfordville, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)

Abrams, possibly the most visible candidate in the country, has been in a tight race against her Republican opponent, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp. The race has drawn out its share of celebrity endorsements. Abrams, the former minority leader of Georgia’s House of Representatives, has brought out the likes of former President Barack Obama and former talk show host Oprah Winfrey, who even went door knocking for the candidate.

Obama said Abrams represents “a more hopeful vision” of government for the state compared to her opponent.

“Making sure that working families get a fair shake is on the ballot. But maybe most of all the character of our country is on the ballot,” Obama said.

With polls showing a close contest, Kemp has the backing of President Donald Trump, who publicly said Abrams is “not qualified” to serve as governor.

Abrams, a graduate of Yale University Law School, struck back and said, “I think desperation tends to lead to, you know, comments that aren’t necessarily grounded in reality.”

OPrah and Stacey Abrams thegrio.com
Oprah Winfrey and Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams wave goodbye to a crowd gathered for a town hall conversation in support for gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. (Alyssa Pointer /Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Meanwhile, Gillum, the current mayor of Tallahassee, Florida, is in a very unpredictable racially- and ideologically-divided battle with Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis. You’ll remember that DeSantis was accused of using racially-loaded language when he said in August that Gillum would “monkey this up” if chosen as  governor of the Panhandle State. Even DeSantis supporter, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the the stakes are so high, this election, in his words, are “cotton-pickin’ important.”

“Public policy matters. Leadership matters. And that is why this election is so cotton-pickin’ important to the state of Florida,” said Perdue, a former governor of Georgia, to Kemp supporters on Saturday. “I hope you all don’t mess it up.”

In response, Gillum, who similar to Abrams has also been the target of racist robocalls, took the high road.

“We’re trying our very best to end this race on a high note,” Gillum said. “As I have said throughout the campaign, we’re working to give voters something that they can vote for and not just against.”

There’s a lot at stake for these two states. Here are some of the biggest issues that voters are holding dear in Florida and Georgia.

GEORGIA

Healthcare:

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Abrams supports expanding Medicaid and exploring a program to stabilize health insurance premiums.

Kemp opposes expanding Medicaid but supports increasing rural hospital tax credit program and seeking federal waivers to help stabilize insurance premiums.

 

Taxes/Budget:

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Abrams backtracked that she would reverse a state income tax cut. Instead, she favors tax credit for lower-income families, expanding Medicaid and new scholarships and tax credits that could make childcare more affordable.

Kemp wants to put a cap on state spending adjusted for growth and inflation, slash income taxes, increase teacher pay and said he wants to eliminate “wasteful” tax incentives.

Gun control laws:

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Abrams supports stiffer gun laws, including universal background checks for private sales of firearms and a repeal of the “campus carry” legislation allowing permit holders to carry weapons on college campuses.

Kemp opposes new gun restrictions and backs “constitutional carry,” which would let gun owners conceal and carry handguns without permits. Kemp proposed a sales tax holiday for guns and ammunition and seeks to end some “gun-free” zones.

 

Crime/Drugs:

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Abrams vows to eliminate using cash bail for some of the poorest defendants, ending capital punishment, supports steps to decriminalize marijuana, expanding accountability courts.

Kemp said if he’s elected, he plans to create a new unit in the state attorney general’s office devoted to fighting crime, especially those gang-related. He also rejects any in-state cultivating of medical marijuana.

 

While race and ethics are unquestionably big issues between Gillum and DeSantis in Florida’s race for governor, there are other key issues as well. The winner of this hotly-contested race replace termed-out Gov. Rick Scott. For Gillum, not only would be Florida’s first Black governor, but the first Democrat in two decades. Florida’s next governor will also get to select the state’s next three Supreme Court justices.  

FLORIDA

Healthcare:

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Gillum wants to expand Medicaid, arguing that it would help thousands of Florida citizens gain access to healthcare.

DeSantis, who only two weeks ago released his long-awaited healthcare plan, isn’t in favor of Medicaid expansion, saying do so would give well-bodied persons free government benefits.

 

Budget/Taxes:

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Gillum wants a corporate tax increase that could raise teacher salaries. He also believes the tax bump would better help citizens attending state schools enter the workforce.

DeSantis is not in favor of raising taxes, but instead a state ballot measure that would require a two-thirds majority of the Florida Legislature to pass any tax increases.

 

Education:

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Gillum said the state needs to stop taking away money for traditional schools to pay for voucher programs. He also supports giving teachers pay raises.

DeSantis supports “school choice” and expand giving vouchers to allow students to attend private and charter schools outside of their district.

 

Gun control:

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Gillum took on the National Rifle Association in court and has said that he wants to ban assault weapons.

DeSantis said he opposes gun restrictions and adds he would’ve vetoed a new state law passed this year that included some minor gun reforms.

These two key races are in two of largest Southern states and now a part of the most important and electrifying midterm election in U.S. history. The best way to be heard: Vote.