U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., takes a question from Gwendolyn Farris during a town hall at Dunwoody High School earlier this month. Branden Camp/Special
Photo: Branden Camp
Photo: Branden Camp

The two things you need to know about Lucy McBath

Last Saturday, this newspaper told you that U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Roswell, had recently amended estimates of her own financial net worth — which last year she had put down as no more than $350,000.

A spokesman for the congresswoman said McBath had neglected to include the assets of her husband, who lives in Tennessee, on the required federal disclosure forms. Combined, the McBath family assets are now estimated at somewhere between $964,000 and $2.35 million.

Federal disclosure forms are rather vague that way.

Forty-eight hours later, McBath was on “CBS This Morning.” Not to talk about her bank account or her husband’s holdings. The topic was her murdered 17-year-old son, Jordan Davis, and how that 2012 act of violence ultimately drove her to seek elected office.

There are two important things to know about Lucy McBath. First, she is a rarity in Georgia politics. She is a movement politician, elected last November in large part on the strength of her anti-gun violence message.

“Jordan’s death had everything to do with me running for office,” McBath told her CBS interviewer on Monday. “My mother’s mission here is to take all of that concern and support and nurturing that I still would be doing for my son — I’m just channeling it to the people that I live among every single day.”

The second thing to know about McBath, 59, is that she is one of Congress’ more impromptu members. Eighteen months ago, she was a first-time candidate with her eyes on a Marietta-based state House seat. This was a logical, safe first step for a retired flight attendant-turned-gun control advocate who was eager to inject herself into a public policy debate.

Then came the massacre at a Parkland, Fla., high school.

With no warning to her party’s hierarchy, McBath entered the Democratic race to face down U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, R-Roswell. McBath won that primary. And with substantial backing from a well-heeled anti-gun violence movement, McBath beat Handel in November, winning a Sixth District seat once held by both Newt Gingrich and Johnny Isakson.

Federal office demands a detailed set of acquired skills — far more than what’s required of a state lawmaker. A member of Congress immediately becomes the boss of a small staff. McBath had a rough start.

No staffers from Handel’s office stayed over to help McBath establish herself. As she herself exited, Handel specifically directed that McBath was to inherit none of the “Correspondence Management System data” generated by her office.

In the interim, McBath directed Sixth District constituents seeking help — whether on Social Security matters or passport issues — to U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., without first informing the senator’s staff. It was a missed opportunity to create a good first impression.

Whether in a campaign or running an office in Congress, staffing is the key to survival. It is the job of a campaign staff to make sure candidates — especially green ones — have their financial ducks in a row. A congressional staff is obliged to do the same. In McBath’s case, this seems to be lacking.

The amended financial statement above is one example. In April, the Cobb County tax commissioner’s office revoked three years of homestead exemption claims — for 2016, 2017 and 2018 — by McBath and her husband Curtis. During the 2018 campaign, McBath said she had briefly moved to Tennessee to help her husband work through family issues — but then moved back to Marietta.

During the campaign and since, Handel and her supporters have cited the homestead morass as proof that McBath is a resident of Tennessee. Indeed, the McBath marriage is, on its surface, non-traditional. But Curtis McBath is a Delta flight attendant. The couple have no children of their own. In the airline business, under those circumstances, separate households are more common among flying couples than you might think.

McBath currently owns one of the highest spots on the GOP’s list of 2020 congressional targets. Republicans still assume the Sixth District has been only temporarily poached – not permanently lost. At least for now, McBath’s status as a voice against gun violence appears to have shielded her from the consequences of early missteps.

Last week, McBath touted the inclusion of $50 million in new funding for gun violence research in a larger appropriations bill that passed the U.S. House. Republicans were largely silent on the matter.

A stray video of Handel voicing her opinion that McBath won her 2018 campaign “on emotion” surfaced earlier this month — but there has been no repeat. Last month, Carolyn Meadows, the new president of the NRA and a resident of the Sixth District, cited McBath’s status as a “minority female” as the reason for her victory. Meadows quickly retracted the statement.

With Handel and three others already in the GOP primary to face her next year, attacks on McBath have been generated – daily, and with sharp language — primarily by National Republican Congressional Committee, headed up by U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota.

“Our communications team has a direct mandate from me and Leader [Kevin] McCarthy to be ruthless,” Emmer was quoted as saying last week.

Yet thus far, the only jab the NRCC has aimed at McBath’s anti-gun violence forte has been the result of a foot-in-mouth moment. At a Capitol Hill press conference earlier this month, McBath urged attendees to “stand-up for a gun-free society.”

A McBath campaign spokesman quickly said the congresswoman “misspoke” — that her prepared remarks read “gun violence free society.”

But the NRCC is having none of it. In particularly Trumpian fashion, the GOP’s congressional campaign arm is attempting to re-baptize McBath as “Lyin’ Lucy.”

Maybe the name will stick, maybe it won’t. Either way, it’s a reminder that McBath’s bid for a second term next year will be a tooth-and-nail affair. Details will matter, and so deserve attention.

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About the Author

Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.
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