Georgia 7th: Cleland flips his endorsement in crowded House race

When Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux announced a second bid for Georgia's 7th District early this year, her list of endorsements including Max Cleland. The former U.S. senator, however, has had a recent change of heart.

He told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he's backing a new challenger for the competitive Gwinnett-based district: State Sen. Zahra Karinshak, who entered the race in August.

“Karinshak is a military veteran who has the kind of wisdom and skills badly needed in Congress,” said Cleland, himself a U.S. Army veteran who lost both legs and his arm serving in the Vietnam War. “There’s no question in my mind that makes her more electable.”

Bourdeaux lost the nation’s tightest U.S. House race in 2018 to U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, who is retiring after that close call, and she boasts a long list of high-profile supporters in her 2020 bid. But Karinshak’s campaign hopes Cleland’s defection is a sign the party establishment is having second thoughts.

A first-term lawmaker who flipped a Republican-held district last year, Karinshak launched her campaign with plans to emphasize her military background. She attended the U.S. Air Force Academy and served as an intelligence officer during the Gulf War, before graduating from Emory Law School.

Bourdeaux, a public policy professor, and Karinshak are among five top Democrats racing to represent a district that has transformed from a safely-Republican seat to a competitive free-for-all. State Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero, party organizer Nabilah Islam and ex-Fulton Commission chair John Eaves are also in the race.

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.

3/7/19 - Atlanta  - Zahra Karinshak, senator of district 48, presents SB 58, her first bill, at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, Georgia on Thursday, March 7, 2019.  EMILY HANEY /

Credit: Emily Haney

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Credit: Emily Haney