Outcome still unclear in Gwinnett congressional race

Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux is challenging U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville, in the 7th Congressional District.

Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux is challenging U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville, in the 7th Congressional District.

A hotly-contested congressional race in Atlanta’s northern suburbs was too close to call early Wednesday.

Only a few thousand votes separated Republican Congressman Rob Woodall and his Democratic opponent Carolyn Bourdeaux, and confusion abounded after two news outlets declared the race in favor of the latter but soon retracted the call.

Currently outstanding are about 20,000 absentee ballots in Gwinnett County and potentially the results from one precinct there, a Bourdeaux spokesman said.

Spencer Smith, the Democrat’s campaign manager, said he hoped the vote margin would remain slim enough to trigger a recount. He said the campaign would be “aggressively pursue” all legal opportunities to ensure the ballots were counted correctly.

“This campaign will fight like hell,” Smith said.

Woodall ended his election watch party in Buford late Tuesday without declaring victory, and he largely relinquished the results of the contest to fate.

“I trust the American voter,” Woodall said. “I think the American voter gets it right. We have elections every two years. Sometimes folks win, sometimes folks lose. But it’s having that choice that makes the government work.”

“This year, we had very distinct paths that folks were able to choose between,” he added.

If Woodall wins, it would be the narrowest victory of his eight-year congressional career and a disappointment after cruising to reelection by more than 20 percentage points two years ago.

Should Bourdeaux pull off an upset, she would become the first-ever woman to represent the Gwinnett and Forsyth-based 7th District.

Woodall’s low-key campaign style had worried Republican operatives in Georgia and Washington. He rarely used social media, had trouble keeping up with Bourdeaux's fundraising and only began advertising on television days before Election Day.

READ | Bourdeaux says commitment to public service drives run for Congress

MORE | Woodall's campaign focuses on tax cuts, largely ignores opponent

On Tuesday, a Woodall campaign aide said the race was run exactly the way it was planned, away from the public eye and the media “echo chamber.” He called it a grassroots campaign with specific targets across Forsyth and Gwinnett counties.

“If people are asking ‘What were you doing,’ then we did our job,” he said.

The 7th District has not elected a Democrat in a quarter-century. Until this year, the party had trouble even recruiting formidable challengers.

But Gwinnett County’s explosive population growth, particularly among immigrant communities, paired with Democrat Jon Ossoff's showing in last year’s 6th District special election, helped change the political winds.

Like the race in the neighboring 6th District, the contest is seen as a test of President Trump's popularity – and Democrats' ability to take advantage of his relative lack of it – in diversifying and well-educated Atlanta suburbs that had long been considered safe GOP territory.

Bourdeaux, a public policy professor who once ran the Georgia Senate budget office, was a political neophyte when she announced her congressional run last year. She focused her campaign on health care, vowing to support Medicaid expansion and protect Obamacare, and she attacked Woodall for being out of step with the district on immigration.

Bourdeaux was positive when she stopped by to thank supporters at her Norcross election watch party earlier in the evening.

“It’s going to be a long night, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a bad night,” Bourdeaux said.

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Voters were given the options of filling out a paper ballot or coming back later.