Democrat Karinshak enters crowded race for Georgia’s 7th District

State Sen. Zahra Karinshak.   Bob Andres /

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

State Sen. Zahra Karinshak. Bob Andres /

Democratic state Sen. Zahra Karinshak joined the race for Georgia's 7th congressional district Thursday with a promise to bring accountability to Washington, scrambling an already muddled contest for the suburban Atlanta seat.

The first-term lawmaker, who flipped a Republican-held district last year, instantly becomes one of the better-known contenders in the crowded race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, a Republican who barely clung to his seat in 2018 after a razor-thin vote.

Karinshak told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution she’ll emphasize her military background, her stint as a federal prosecutor and her legislative experience as she appeals to voters in a district that spans parts of Gwinnett and Forsyth counties.

“The time is now,” said Karinshak. “We cannot wait to fix Washington. There is so much partisanship and bickering that we need true leadership. I’m going to hold Washington accountable.”

She’s one of six Democrats racing to represent the district, which has transformed from a safely-Republican seat to a competitive free-for-all after playing host to the closest U.S. House race in the nation last year.

That race was narrowly lost by Carolyn Bourdeaux, a college professor who came within 500 votes of defeating Woodall. She's back in the contest this year, along with state Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero, party organizer Nabilah Islam attorney Marqus Cole and ex-Fulton Commission chair John Eaves.

The Republican race to replace Woodall is just as jumbled. The GOP candidates include state Sen. Renee Unterman, former Home Depot executive Lynn Homrich, military veteran Ben Bullock, businessman Mark Gonsalves and emergency room doctor Richard McCormick.

After growing up in poverty in rural LaFayette, Karinshak attended the U.S. Air Force Academy and served as an intelligence officer during the Gulf War. She later graduated from Emory Law School and was legal counsel to Gov. Roy Barnes during the fraught fight to change the Georgia state flag.

In 2018, she flipped a Duluth-based seat held by Republican David Shafer, who was running for lieutenant governor and later was elected as head of the Georgia GOP. It was one of a sweep of suburban legislative seats that Democrats captured in the midterm election.

‘Yelling and screaming’

In the Senate, Karinshak was a leading opponent of anti-abortion legislation and co-sponsored legislation to require schools to support young students with dyslexia. She said she intends to serve out her term and that she’s confident Democrats will hold the seat next year.

Karinshak said she decided to run at the urging of her two teenage daughters who worried the “yelling and screaming” in Washington forced policy-making to a standstill.

“At the end of the day, I’m a mother and my children have recognized what most have recognized: Washington needs to be fixed,” she said. “That’s what the people of the 7th want. They want someone who will get things done.”

She said she’ll focus her campaign on preserving the Affordable Care Act, expanding the Medicaid program and supporting abortion rights. Unterman, the most prominent Republican in the contest, was a lead sponsor of sweeping new abortion restrictions signed into law this year.

In a race featuring several candidates who live outside the district, Karinshak said she will also highlight the more than two decades she's lived in the area and her relationship with former U.S. Rep. Buddy Darden, a mentor who once represented the district.

“I know the issues facing my friends and neighbors,” Karinshak said. “What’s drawing me to run is the absolute need for leadership at the national level to get beyond the bickering.”