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A first wave of women targets Republicans after Ga. ‘heartbeat’ vote

03/22/2019 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- Pro-Choice and Pro-Life demonstrators display their signs during the 35th legislative day at the Georgia State Capitol building in downtown Atlanta, Friday, March 22, 2019. The Georgia Senate is set for a lengthy debate on the anti-abortion "heartbeat bill" Friday. Sen. Renee Unterman is carrying the bill for Rep. Ed Setzler.  (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
03/22/2019 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- Pro-Choice and Pro-Life demonstrators display their signs during the 35th legislative day at the Georgia State Capitol building in downtown Atlanta, Friday, March 22, 2019. The Georgia Senate is set for a lengthy debate on the anti-abortion "heartbeat bill" Friday. Sen. Renee Unterman is carrying the bill for Rep. Ed Setzler. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

‘It’s just the beginning,’ says event organizer

Georgia Democrats promised to launch new challenges against Republican lawmakers who voted for the "heartbeat" anti-abortion bill. And a first wave of those candidates announced those plans just days after the legislative session ended.

At a press conference Friday under the Gold Dome that veered from somber to celebratory, seven women Democrats announced challenges against seven Republican incumbents – of whom six are men.

The announcements were organized by Georgia Win List, which backs pro-choice Democratic women. It wasn’t meant as an endorsement, said executive director Melita Easters, but “just the beginning” of a long candidate roll-out.

“There will be a strong slate of women candidates for 2020,” said Easters. “We will flip the House and hopefully the Senate. It’s time.”

Many of the women were already planning to run before the legislative session, but said the passage of House Bill 481, which outlaws most abortions as soon as a heartbeat is detected, helped cement their decision.

“I’m from Georgia and I don’t like seeing where we are going,” said Nikki Merritt, who is among several challengers already to state Sen. P.K. Martin of Gwinnett County. “We live in a free society. No one has the right to take choice away from women – ever.”

Others were drawn off the sidelines by the Republican-backed measure. Caroline Holko said she shared what she described as a deeply personal story with her representative, John Carson, about how abortion saved her life and got a curt response back about his support for the bill.

“At that moment, I resolved to file my intent to fund-raise,” she said, adding: “To paraphrase Ruth Bader Ginsberg: How many women are enough in the House? All the seats.”

Republicans hope the new restrictions, which are bound to trigger a lengthy court battle, will energize their supporters. State Rep. David Clark of Suwanee captured attention over the weekend with a video showing him shrugging off the threat of a challenge.

“Some of us care about the value of human life more than winning an election,” he said.

More: Under Kemp, Georgia Republicans wade back into culture war 

Here’s a list of the candidates:

  • Sarah Beeson will challenge state Sen. John Albers of Roswell. A first-time candidate, Beeson is a former Young Democrats of Georgia president.
  • Caroline Holko will challenge state Rep. John Carson of Marietta. Holko was defeated in a 2018 run for a Cobb County commission seat.
  • Triana Arnold James will challenge Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan of Carrollton. James was defeated in the 2018 Democratic primary for lieutenant governor.
  • Rachel Kinsey will challenge U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk of Cassville. Kinsey was defeated last year by state Sen. Bruce Thompson.
  • Emily Leslie will challenge state Rep. Brett Harrell of Snellville. Leslie was a write-in candidate in the 2018 election.
  • Nikki Merritt will challenge state Sen. P.K. Martin of Lawrenceville. She is one of several Democratic contenders; former Gwinnett Democratic chair Gabe Okoye is also running.
  • Luisa Wakeman will challenge state Rep. Sharon Cooper of Marietta. It will be a rematch of last year's contest, in which Cooper won by less than 1,000 votes. Cooper was among a handful of Republicans who voted against the abortion bill.

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