2020 elections

GOP Congressman’s Retirement in Suburban Atlanta Is A Sign of Changing Times

Rob Woodall’s district used to be a GOP paradise. Now after nearly losing he’s hanging it up. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

One sign of Georgia’s changing political environment occurred on Tuesday night, when 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams was tapped to provide the national party’s response to Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address. Another occurred today when five-term Republican congressman Rob Woodall from the north Atlanta suburban 7th district announced he would retire in 2020, after very nearly losing last year.

When I was working in Georgia politics and government in the 1980s and 1990s, Woodall’s Gwinnett County base was synonymous with the growth of the Republican Party. I distinctly recall a moment when environmentalists complained about the destruction of trees in the county, and the top local developer responded: “Gwinnett is not for trees.” It was for massive subdivision and strip mall development, and rapid middle-class (and upper-class) population growth.

Woodall was certainly a fixture in Gwinnett GOP politics, serving on the staff of hard-core conservative congressman John Linder for 16 years before succeeding the boss and winning at least 60 percent of the vote in his first four races. He clearly underestimated his 2018 Democratic opponent Carolyn Bordeaux. But he had a bigger problem, as the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman observes:

The 7th CD is the epitome of a high-education melting pot. In 2010, when Republicans first drew the seat, it was 50 percent white and in 2012, Mitt Romney carried it by 22 points, 60 percent to 38 percent. But in 2016, President Trump carried the district by just six points, 51 percent to 45 percent. Now, Census estimates peg it at just 47 percent white, 19 percent Hispanic, 19 percent African-American and 13 percent Asian.

Among other things, this slice of Gwinnett County is home to Koreatown (or K-Town), an enclave of economically rising Korean-Americans who are very active politically. Woodall and other local Republicans just couldn’t keep up; he won by 419 votes, and only after a recount.

With Woodall retiring and Bordeaux preparing to run again, Wasserman says of GA-07 that it “may be [Democrats’] best pickup opportunity in the country.” And the whole state of Georgia may represent a serious pickup opportunity in the Senate–and for the presidency, too.

GOP Congressman’s Retirement a Sign of Changing Times