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Cobb State House race could be bellwether for purple Georgia

The race to represent parts of Vinings, Smyrna and Mableton in the state House of Representatives will test long-term demographic and political trends in Cobb County amid a surge in interest in this year’s midterm elections.

Both District 40 candidates, Republican Matt Bentley and Democrat Erick Allen, say they are focusing on local and statewide issues such as education, healthcare and traffic in their efforts to appeal to a broad swath of voters in this economically and racially diverse suburb of Atlanta.

But ever since the area’s long-time Republican representative, Rich Golick, announced he would not seek re-election, the race has attracted attention in GOP-leaning Georgia as a potential bellwether for the rest of the metro area and even the state, which has become increasing competitive for Democrats in recent elections.

Add to that a heated governor’s race and a polarizing president, and some analysts see the possibility of a “blue wave” in November that could swing down-ticket races like District 40.

“That area has been changing and so the party mix might be a little different from what it’s been in the past,” said Kerwin Swint, who chairs the Political Science Department at Kennesaw State University.

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“It’s going to be competitive—it’s already competitive,” Swint said.

Neither candidate has held public office before, and both have fallen short in previous attempts.

Bentley, a real estate attorney from a prominent local family, came in fifth—and third among Republicans—in last year’s special election for the 6th District State Senate seat. He has so far raised $137,000 this election year, much of it from developers and real estate interests.

Bentley said he is running on a platform of fiscal responsibility and accountability. He wants to repeal the state income tax and cut back on regulations, actions he says will spur the economy and allow the state to invest more in public education and healthcare. He said he is open to expanding Medicaid and mass transit, as long as it makes sense financially.

“As long as the economy continues to thrive, we’ll have additional revenue streams to pay for things,” Bentley said. “A lot of people are beginning to see the positives of the Republican-controlled economy.”

As for the forecasts of a “blue wave,” Bentley pointed to the polling before the 2016 presidential election that predicted an overwhelming victory for Hillary Clinton.

“I think that my campaign will appeal to a much broader group” than just Republicans, he said.

The Democrat in the race, Allen, ran unsuccessfully before and actually lost his party’s primary this year to a woman who dropped out of the race shortly after cinching the nomination. Allen has raised $33,000, including $4,000 of his own money. Some of the largest donations coming from an educational PAC and NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Allen is also focusing on healthcare, education and transit, but is already calling for expanding Medicaid as a way of increasing access to healthcare and supporting rural hospitals. He also supports allowing cultivation of medical marijuana for cannabis oil in Georgia. Currently, some patients are allowed to use the oil legally, but it is illegal to buy or import it.

“Healthcare is something I live and breathe every day as a consultant in the healthcare space,” Allen said. “Hospitals are struggling; Georgians are going without healthcare, and there are federal funds that are at our disposal if we would just accept them.”

On education, Allen is critical of vouchers for charter and private schools that he said funnel money away from public schools and give it to “people who have probably already decided to send their kids to private school.”

Despite adopting firmly Democratic positions, Allen has sought to paint himself as a moderate and acknowledged that some on the left have said he isn’t progressive enough.

“There’s a reasonable middle that’s been neglected,” Allen said. “I really want to be a voice for that reasonable middle.”

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