Campaign materials for 7th Congressional District Democratic candidates Carolyn Bourdeaux, Melissa Davis, Kathleen Allen, Ethan Pham, David Kim and Steve Reilly. Curtis Compton/
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Congressional challengers scramble for dollars ahead of primary

With four Democrats running in the 6th Congressional District and six campaigning next door in the 7th, both north Atlanta contests are expected to extend into a runoff, which will be held on July 24 if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the initial vote on May 22. 

Despite this year’s political enthusiasm on the left, the contests have failed to attract anything close to the level of outside money as last year’s record-breaking 6th District special election, new federal campaign finance filings show. The governor’s race and other contests have helped divert some donors’ attention. 

Early voting began Monday, April 30 for Georgia's primary elections.

Meanwhile, the districts’ Republican incumbents, Karen Handel and Rob Woodall, are stockpiling cash with an eye toward the November general election in the face of no or token opposition.

Money of course isn’t everything in congressional races, but it does offer at least some measure of a candidate’s support and organizational might. And it’s critical as first-time candidates look to build name identification with voters.

Here are some nuggets from the candidates’ last major campaign finance reports ahead of the May 22 primary: 

Growing war chests – Handel and Woodall took the month of April (the period covered in this latest filing) to add to their already substantial war chests. Handel, who won the most expensive U.S. House race of all time last summer, faces no Republican opposition this year, but she still raised roughly $66,000 in April. She now has nearly $800,000 cash on hand -- a sizable sum for a campaign that has yet to ramp into high gear. 

Woodall, meanwhile, faces a Republican challenger in this month’s primary. Former Marine Shane Hazel, who is running to Woodall’s right, has raised only about one-tenth of the amount Woodall has so far this cycle. Hazel kicked off May with only $8,500 in the bank, compared to Woodall’s $483,000. 

As is common with congressional incumbents, both Handel and Woodall attracted a substantial chunk of their donations from political action committees and other industry groups. Roughly 85 percent of Woodall’s campaign donations and slightly less than half of Handel’s came from such organizations. 

Bourdeaux’s momentum – One candidate Woodall will likely be watching very closely is Democratic challenger Carolyn Bourdeaux. The Georgia State University professor and first-time candidate again outraised him in April, as she did in the first three months of the year. Bourdeaux also dominated her Democratic opponents at the money game in April, raising more than all five of them combined: $66,000 to roughly $44,000. A notable chunk of Bourdeaux’s money came from out-of-state donors – particularly other professors, doctors and white collar professionals – and many were from Massachusetts. (A campaign spokeswoman said that’s where Bourdeaux’s sister, who has helped her grow her political circle, resides.) She kicked off May with $134,000 in the bank. 

The 7th District’s two other well-financed Democratic challengers, business owner David Kim and lawyer Ethan Pham, reported relatively thin campaign donations in April. Kim pulled in only $10,000 last month, and Pham $17,000. Both did loan their campaigns large sums last month to help them during the contest’s final stretch – Kim gave himself $175,000, while Pham wrote a $45,000 check. Kim ended April with $70,000 in his campaign account, and Pham with $92,000. 

Muddled 6th District Dems – The growing consensus among political types is that the Democratic contest will end up in a runoff involving former Delta flight attendant Lucy McBath, businessman Kevin Abel and/or newscaster Bobby Kaple. While McBath initially lagged in fundraising, she has a national profile as a gun control advocate, and Kaple and Abel have shown a willingness to reach into their own wallets to help bolster their fundraising returns. 

Abel was the best fundraiser of any 6th or 7th District candidate in April, pulling in $93,000 in April, mainly from in-state donors. Kaple and McBath each raised about half of that during the same period. McBath ended April with slightly less than $70,000 in the bank, but she’s been buoyed over the last few weeks by spending from the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. Kaple has raised as much money as Abel since entering the race, but his financial strategy has been much different. Going into May, Kaple had nearly three times as much money in the bank as Abel, who ended April with about $111,000 on hand.

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman is a senior reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's enterprise team, where she covers gender, the urban-rural divide and other...