David Kim and Carolyn Bourdeaux face off in the July 24 Democratic runoff in the 7th Congressional District, which is based in Gwinnett and Forsyth counties. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Dem congressional contests take fiery turn ahead of runoffs

Voter suppression. Disloyalty to the party. Political opportunism. Favorite of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.

Those are all punches that have been thrown in the run-up to Tuesday’s Democratic congressional runoffs, a pair of contests in Atlanta’s northern suburbs that have recently taken a negative turn.

Both the 6th and 7th district races started off as relatively sleepy affairs as the first-time candidates navigated the unfamiliar turf of fundraising, hiring campaign staff and securing endorsements.

But not unlike the more high-profile governor’s race, the tone of the congressional contests has become increasingly hostile in recent weeks as the candidates have sought the edge in what’s expected to be a low-turnout race at the heart of summer vacation season.

The mudslinging is fairly novel in the 6th and 7th districts, which sweep across north metro Atlanta. The GOP has dominated politics in Cobb, Forsyth and Gwinnett counties and those portions of DeKalb and Fulton counties for years, and Democrats until recently had trouble recruiting any promising candidates, much less multiple contenders.

There are few major policy differences between Lucy McBath and Kevin Abel, who are running to take on U.S. Rep. Karen Handel in the 6th, and David Kim and Carolyn Bourdeaux in the 7th, the district currently represented by U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall. But the two pairs have bickered in recent weeks about their political histories and loyalty to the Democratic Party. 

None of the four candidates has ever held elected office, so without legislative records to draw from, the campaigns have had to dig deep into their opponents' histories to find ways to draw distinctions between themselves and their competition. 

The 7th District race has played host to the most incendiary fighting. 

Bourdeaux hit Kim early in the race for not voting in any elections before this year’s primary, while Kim has sought to tie Bourdeaux to the policies of the GOP-led Georgia Legislature, for which she served as a nonpartisan official from 2007 to 2010.

But tensions hit a new high ahead of the July 4th holiday after Kim suggested Bourdeaux’s camp deployed “voter suppression” tactics after a misunderstanding at a polling place involving Korean translators working for his campaign.

“We should be the shining example of the New South,” Kim said, “not perpetuating the tactics out of the Old South’s Jim Crow playbook.” 

Bourdeaux has vehemently denied those allegations and said Kim was “appropriat(ing)” the struggles of African-Americans in order to “score cheap political points.” 

The 6th District race has overall been a quieter affair, although it has attracted more outside money

McBath has turned up the temperature at recent debates by digging into the archives of a blog Abel authored as recently as last year. She cited a blog post that postulated about the creation of a centrist third party that could cut deals on third-rail issues such as Social Security and teacher pay, which McBath framed as out of line with the views of Democratic voters. 

“Working against the Democratic Party is disconcerting,” McBath said at a recent debate. “Who do you plan to join you, including Republicans?” 

Abel hasn’t denied writing the posts, but he’s also vocalized his support for the Democratic Party. In a recent press release he called McBath’s offensive “false and misleading.” 

Polling has been scant in both contests, which have been overshadowed by this year’s gubernatorial race in terms of both money and attention. The only major outside dollars have come from the political arm of the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety, which has spent more than $1 million in favor of McBath, one of its former spokeswomen. 

Abel had initially criticized McBath for benefiting from Everytown’s money even after accepting the endorsement of a group that opposes dark money, but he later walked back those comments. Still, he grumbled that Everytown was spending so much money to work against him, a candidate who favors gun control. 

“I wish that they would be sending that money to advocate for a candidate who is running against someone who is not for the same issues," he said.

Meanwhile, Handel and Woodall have spent recent months building up their war chests for the Nov. 6 election. 

Read more: 

What to know about the 6th Congressional District race

The 7th Congressional District race: What you need to know

Dem. candidates attack each others’ liberal credentials in 6th, 7th District debates

Handel beefs up war chest as challengers focus on runoff

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that...

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