Georgia Democrats build a history-busting slate of women candidates

In this file photo, U.S. Rep. John Lewis stands with Lucy McBath at a rally to protest gun violence. McBath was one of two women added to the November general election, winning the Democratic nomination to face U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, R-Roswell, in a Sixth District congressional contest. Carolyn Bourdeaux won the Democratic nomination in the Seventh District. She’ll face U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville. DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM

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In this file photo, U.S. Rep. John Lewis stands with Lucy McBath at a rally to protest gun violence. McBath was one of two women added to the November general election, winning the Democratic nomination to face U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, R-Roswell, in a Sixth District congressional contest. Carolyn Bourdeaux won the Democratic nomination in the Seventh District. She’ll face U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville. DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM

The Republican race for governor we just witnessed amounted to a testosterone-fueled buddy flick. We had mic'd-up secret agents, explosions, shotguns, roaring chain saws, giant pickup trucks, and a candidate pushed off a cliff in the final scene.

The last men standing were a battle-scarred Brian Kemp and his mysteriously summoned ally, President Donald Trump. A sequel is already in the works.

So it is worth examining the general election ticket that Georgia Democrats finished building on Tuesday. Former state lawmaker Stacey Abrams won the top spot in May, and is now running to become the first African-American woman to be elected governor in U.S. history.

But with Tuesday’s vote, we now know that the Nov. 6 ballot, in addition to Abrams, will feature 10 other female candidates for federal and statewide offices — a number unprecedented in Georgia political history.

If a tally kept by Rutgers University is accurate, the Georgia ballot will have more women at the top than any state in the South, with the two exceptions — the vastly more populated states of Florida and Texas.

Nine of those 11 Georgia women are Democrats.

In addition to Abrams, Democrats have nominated women for lieutenant governor (Sarah Riggs Amico), insurance commissioner (Janice Laws), and two open seats on the Public Service Commission (Lindy Miller and Dawn Randolph).

On Tuesday, Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux were added to the Democratic list, winning the Sixth and Seventh District congressional nominations, respectively. Two other women, Lisa Ring and Tabitha Johnson-Green, won their congressional nominations in May.

Female candidates also dominate Democratic recruiting at the state House and Senate level.

As candidates for governor and lieutenant governor, Abrams and Amico will lead a Democratic ticket intended to face down Kemp, currently the secretary of state, and (unless a recount changes things) Geoff Duncan, a former member of the House.

Abrams is a known factor: An Atlanta lawyer, novelist and former House minority leader who has made her candidacy a national Democratic cause. Amico is a political rookie, but one with credentials that complement the ticket. She is a well-spoken, pro-choice, white church-going evangelical, a former Republican, a suburban mom, and a top executive of a family-owned national trucking company based in GOP-heavy west Cobb County.

“The combination of Sarah and Stacey is a very powerful one-two punch,” said Melita Easters. Easters is not on the ballot, but this is her moment, too. The Georgia WIN List was founded in 1998 around her dining room table in Atlanta. The organization has been dedicated to finding, training and funding women candidates who support abortion rights.

Easters pointed to the quality of the Democratic ticket. “We’ve got three women at the top of the Georgia ticket with Ivy League master’s degrees — Stacey, Sarah and Lindy,” Easters said. “They’re not going to run around south Georgia talking about their degrees, but the fact that they’re so smart is evident to anybody.”

This is somewhat unfair. Bourdeaux, the Seventh District congressional candidate, earned her bachelor’s degree at Yale, but a doctorate in public finance from Syracuse University disqualifies her as a club member.

And there’s the fact that nine men are also on the Democratic ticket — including the multi-degreed Otha Thornton, the nominee for school superintendent; Charlie Bailey, the choice for attorney general; and former congressman John Barrow, who’s running for secretary of state. Barrow is a graduate of Harvard law.

But gender is likely to matter more than education in November. How much it will matter is something we don’t know. This is new territory.

President Trump almost certainly will be an active ingredient. His influence among Republican voters, as demonstrated by the sudden surge of the Kemp campaign, is astounding. And yet women voters strongly disapprove of him. The latest Quinnipiac University poll, released last week, put Trump’s national approval rating among Republicans at 82 percent. Among women, it dropped to 31 percent.

U.S. Rep. Karen Handel of Roswell and Tricia Pridemore, a member of the state Public Service Commission, are the two women at the top of the Republican ticket. Handel’s Sixth District race will be closely watched to see whether her gender affords her protection from this year's anti-Trump backlash.

On Wednesday, in the aftermath of McBath’s victory on the Democratic side, Handel’s campaign manager laid into the first-time candidate as a product of “dark” money from national Democrats, someone with only loose ties to the region. The argument was similar to the one Handel successfully employed against Democrat Jon Ossoff last year.

The word “Trump” was not mentioned in the press release.

I asked McBath, an anti-gun violence activist whose murdered son would have graduated from Marietta High School, if she intended to bring Trump into her contest. She said no — sort of.

“I’m focused on Karen Handel. Karen Handel represents Trump,” McBath said.

On Thursday, Abrams was on the Georgia coast, emphasizing job creation. It was Amico, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, who appeared in front of Atlanta TV cameras at the state Capitol. She made a play for Georgia’s business community.

“When Republicans focus on these side issues like religious liberty, when they spend more time on a resolution about kneeling football players than they do on fixing the rural health care crisis, that’s heat loss,” she told reporters. “It literally conducts energy away from the problems at hand.”

Afterwards I asked her how this Democratic team of women would work over the next few months. “Women learned a long time ago that one of the best ways to make our voices heard was to amplify one another. I’ve seen it in the board room, and I’ve certainly seen it in politics,” she said.

But Amico doesn’t want the general election to become a battle of the sexes. “This is a slate of candidates that looks like the state. What I love is, there’s this consistent, pragmatic, problem-solving, results-oriented approach,” she said. “And that, perhaps, even more than the appearance of the slate, is the biggest contrast with the other side.”

Moments after she finished, Brian Kemp and an aide walked out the front door of the Capitol and brushed by the scattering Democrats. The Republican nominee for governor did not stop to chat.