Democrats line up to flip Georgia’s 7th Congressional District

Stations to fill out ballots are shown vacant as poll wokers wait to assist during special election voting at city hall to fill an empty city council seat on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, in Dacula.

About Georgia's 7th Congressional District: It includes most of Gwinnett County and a portion of Forsyth County. It is one of 72 U.S. House seats — and one of two in Georgia — that have been marked as a battleground race by the elections monitoring website Ballotpedia. The Cook Political Report describes the seat as a toss-up, saying either party has a chance on winning based on elections data.

The 7th has been in Republican hands since Bob Barr unseated U.S. Rep. Buddy Darden in 1994. Before 2018, Democrats hadn’t drawn more than one candidate since at least 2010.

Georgia’s 7th Congressional District was marked as a toss-up in 2018, and it was: Incumbent GOP Rep. Rob Woodall was able to hang on by less than 500 votes.

Carolyn Bourdeaux, the woman who nearly defeated him, is back for the 2020 race. But after demonstrating the district could be within reach for Democrats — especially after Woodall chose not to seek re-election — the field in that primary has attracted more familiar faces.

>> Related: Where 7th District Republican candidates stand on the issues

>> Related: Where 7th District Democratic candidates stand on the issues

>> Related: Republicans aim to hang onto Georgia's 7th Congressional District seat

First-term state Sen. Zahra Karinshak, who flipped a Duluth-area district in 2018, and state Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero, who represents Norcross, are trying to make the leap from the state Legislature to Capitol Hill.

Former Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves and the 7th District’s 2016 Democratic nominee, Rashid Malik, are also on the ballot. The only candidate who hasn’t run for office before is Nabilah Islam, who’s gotten national attention after modeling her campaign after U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The 7th has been in Republican hands since Bob Barr unseated U.S. Rep. Buddy Darden in 1994. But only in the past two cycles have Democrats begun to draw a larger field of candidates.

Bourdeaux, a public policy professor who once directed the state Senate’s budget office, appears to be in the driver’s seat with money and name recognition ahead of the June 9 primary. She says the close race two years ago proves she is the best Democrat to go up against whoever wins the GOP nomination for the now-open seat.

"We are coming back with a coalition that is stronger than before," Bourdeaux said during a recent debate. "I come in endorsed by Congressman (John) Lewis and (former Atlanta Mayor) Andrew Young. And we are coming back to finish the job."

The coronavirus has made it harder for candidates to campaign right now, putting an end to door-to-door canvassing and public events, and causing potential donors to tighten spending.

For the primary, Bourdeaux leads in fundraising with $1 million left in her account after the most recent reporting period, which ended March 31. Karinshak had about half of that, and Islam was in third place in fundraising with $81,582 in cash on hand.

The challenges of COVID-19 have also pushed some issues aside that otherwise would be an everyday concern, said Bianca Keaton, the chair of the Gwinnett County Democratic Party.

“Some of the hot-button issues that are usually on everyone’s mind in the 7th District, like traffic and transit, aren’t as present right now,” she said. “For a lot of folks who would usually be spending time in their cars, it’s less of an issue right now. Not that it won’t be important in conversations down the road, but right now we’re faced with the immediacy of (the pandemic).”

Although candidates in any primary tend to be more aligned on issues, Bourdeaux’s opponents have used the 2018 loss against her by saying Democrats need new blood that reflects the diversity of the district. Bourdeaux is white; the other five candidates are not.

Lopez Romero points out that she could become the first Latina elected to Congress from Georgia. Islam and Malik are both Bangladeshi, and Eaves is black.

Karinshak, a Georgia native of Iranian descent, appears to be emerging as Bourdeaux’s chief rival. The Air Force veteran and former prosecutor now juggles legislative duties with work as an attorney handling whistleblower complaints.

Her profile grew last year when she helped lead Democratic opposition to the anti-abortion “heartbeat” bill backed by Republicans; it became law but has since been challenged in court. Karinshak said constituents compelled her to run for Congress after only two years in the General Assembly.

“We see it as our duty to run because we have to win this seat,” she said at the Atlanta Press Club debate. “We have to combat (President Donald) Trump, and I’m the person to do it.”

Read more: Who’s running in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District

Also: Congressional District 7 candidates face off in primary debate

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