The Republican gubernatorial runoff got the lion’s share of attention nationally and in Georgia last night (that’s what happens when Donald Trump gets involved), but in two potentially competitive suburban congressional districts near Atlanta, a new era of Democratic optimism created multiple candidacies to challenge GOP incumbents, leading to runoff elections (Georgia requires majorities for party nominations). Reflecting a national trend, women who are first-time candidates won both highly competitive contests.
Just over a year ago, the whole political world revolved around the Sixth Congressional District of Georgia, where Democrat Jon Ossoff narrowly lost a lavishly financed and feverishly covered special-election challenge to veteran Republican pol Karen Handel for a seat comfortably occupied for years by Tom Price, who had become Trump’s HHS Secretary (a position he vacated soon thereafter thanks to his taste for frequent and expensive travel). There was some talk of Ossoff attempting a return engagement with Handel in 2018, but he took a pass. Three viable candidates did step up, including former local news anchor Bobby Kaple and partial self-funding businessman Kevin Abel. But the ultimate winner (over Abel in a runoff) was national gun-safety spokesperson Lucy McBath. Her personal story (her teenage son was fatally shot in a dispute over loud music) has made her a compelling contributor to the ongoing discussion over guns, and financial backing from the Michael Bloomberg–founded Everytown for Gun Safety made her viable in the Sixth District race.
Though disappointment with the Ossoff–Handel outcome has made Democrats wary of any optimism about Georgia’s Sixth, this year’s race is rated as competitive (Lean Republican) by the Cook Political Report, and McBath’s media savvy and access to national funding could keep things very interesting.
The next-door Seventh District, represented by Republican Rob Woodall since 2010, was slightly more Republican than the Sixth in the 2016 presidential election (Trump carried the Seventh by six points, the Sixth by just one point), but the same sharp pro-Democratic trend is apparent there, especially in the district’s dominant county, Gwinnett (which Hillary Clinton actually carried). Six Democrats decided to run against Woodall, and five wound up with double-digit shares of the vote in the May primary. The field was led by Georgia State University professor (and former state government staffer) Carolyn Bourdeaux, who had crucial financial backing from EMILY’s List, and self-funding businessman David Kim, who was successful in attracting a lot of votes from fellow Asian-Americans, who are an increasingly strong presence in Gwinnett. Here’s how the Atlanta Journal-Constitution describes Bourdeaux’s winning campaign:
Bourdeaux, 48, ran a health-care-focused campaign that called for protecting Obamacare, expanding Medicaid in Georgia and granting Medicare the purchasing power to negotiate lower drug prices.
Saying Trump’s election played a big role in her decision to run for office, Bourdeaux also campaigned on equal pay for men and women while promoting women’s health care, abortion rights and paid family medical leave. She picked up support from U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., and former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young.
She ran even with Kim in his Gwinnett County stronghold and then swept the small Democratic vote in neighboring Forsyth County to win by four points. The discipline and fundraising ability Bordeaux showed in the primary and runoff make her a viable challenger to Woodall; Cook Political Report rates the race as “Likely Republican,” but if a Democratic wave does appear, this is exactly the sort of district that might get swept up.
The gubernatorial race between Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams is already assuming the proportions of a legendary struggle, which could make it easy for both parties to turn out their vote in Georgia this fall. But the blue-trending Peach State could also contribute to the achievement of a Democratic takeover of the U.S. House, unlikely as that would have seemed until very recently.