Obama endorses metro Atlanta political hopefuls

Former President Barack Obama waded into Georgia’s two most competitive congressional races on Monday, endorsing a pair of Democrats who are challenging well-connected GOP incumbents in Atlanta’s northern suburbs.

Obama backed the House bids of Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux, two first-time female candidates who emerged from competitive runoffs this summer to respectively take on U.S. Reps. Karen Handel and Rob Woodall in the 6th and 7th congressional districts.

He also backed Georgia House candidate Donna McLeod and a pair of state Senate hopefuls, ex-state Rep. Sally Harrell and Air Force veteran Zahra Karinshak, all Democrats running for competitive seats in Dunwoody and Gwinnett County.

“They’re Americans who aren’t just running against something, but for something. They’re running to expand opportunity and restore the honor and compassion that should be the essence of public service,” Obama said in a statement.

The nods came as part of a wave of 260 nationwide endorsements released by the former president’s office on Monday. The announcement said Obama was focusing on supporting candidates in close races, state districts that are redistricting priorities for the Democrats, and alumni of his campaign and administration, as well as younger candidates to help build a “pipeline of diverse talent and elevating the next generation of leaders within the Democratic party.”

Washington Democrats have bolstered their investments in McBath's and Bourdeaux's campaigns in recent months, even as Woodall and particularly Handel have beefed up their fundraising.

The statehouse races featuring Harrell and Karinshak are considered among the most competitive in Georgia. Hillary Clinton and Jon Ossoff carried the Dunwoody-based district being pursued by Harrell, and Karinshak is running for a Gwinnett County seat being vacated by former lieutenant governor hopeful David Shafer. McLeod barely lost her race for a Gwinnett House seat in 2016.

The nods came as a surprise to many the candidates. Bourdeaux called Obama’s endorsement a “profound honor” on Twitter.

The news once again raises the question of whether Obama -- or his wife, Michelle -- is planning to visit Georgia to campaign this year. Two months ago, the ex-president similarly endorsed Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Stacey Abrams; Sarah Riggs Amico, his party's candidate for lieutenant governor; and metro Atlanta statehouse nominees Matthew Wilson and Shelly Hutchinson.

After shunning the public spotlight during the first year of the Trump administration, Obama in recent months has stepped up his political efforts ahead of the midterms. He recently campaigned for candidates in swing states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania and helped fundraise for his redistricting effort and the Democratic Party.

Staff writers Greg Bluestein and Maya T. Prabhu contributed to this article.