The Democratic primary runoffs for the Atlanta area’s two most closely watched congressional elections will feature a pair of women, a first-generation American and a South African immigrant campaigning on hot-button issues that play to their base: access to health care, gun control, immigration and equal pay for men and women.
At the same time, the contenders — first-time candidates Kevin Abel, Carolyn Bourdeaux, David Kim and Lucy McBath — haven’t been shy about blasting President Donald Trump.
Their unabashedly liberal platforms show they have learned some lessons from Democrat Jon Ossoff’s 4-point defeat in last year’s special election against now-U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, R-Roswell, said Kerwin Swint, a Kennesaw State University political scientist. After entering the race with a “Make Trump Furious” mantra, Ossoff largely refrained from criticizing the president and focused on less contentious issues such as eliminating government waste in a bid to win independent voters.
“Ossoff was trying to keep Republican turnout down. That’s why he was taking it easy on Trump,” Swint said. “This batch of Democratic candidates … I don’t think are as concerned about that. They are just going to hammer Republicans and hammer Trump all day and all night. That is their strategy.”
Jason Thompson, the GOP chairman for Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, predicted Democrats’ new strategy won’t work in the Nov. 6 general election, when the party’s nominees will face well-funded Republican incumbents in districts Trump won in 2016.
“The Democrats are really going more and more and more to the left all the time,” said Thompson, whose district includes large chunks of Forsyth and Gwinnett counties. “There is this narrative that Republicans are in trouble — that these districts are in play. I just don’t see it in the numbers.”
In Thompson’s district, Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall will face the winner of the July 24 Democratic runoff between Bourdeaux, a Georgia State University professor from Suwanee, and Kim, a Duluth resident who created a tutoring business.
Woodall previously said he plans to highlight how the legislation advanced by Trump and the GOP Congress is benefiting his suburban district. Woodall, Handel and other Georgia Republicans have put particular emphasis on the tax overhaul signed into law in December, which they see as responsible for helping boost paychecks and economic confidence.
Both Handel and Woodall have laid low during the primary season, fundraising constantly in order to build formidable war chests that they can deploy later this year to ding their Democratic challengers.
Democrats say they’re optimistic about their chances given Trump’s single-digit margins of victory in the 6th and 7th two years ago. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried each of those districts by more than 20 points four years earlier.
Bourdeaux has campaigned on equal pay for men and women, bolstering women’s health care and paid family medical leave. Like McBath, Bourdeaux has received an endorsement from Emily’s List, a political action committee that backs Democratic women running for office who support abortion rights. Bourdeaux has also set her sights on overhauling campaign finance rules and the redistricting process.
“People are ready for a change. They are ready for a government that is not an oligarchy run by very wealthy individuals,” she said, adding that she took unpaid leave from her teaching job so she could run her campaign. “We are going to push very hard on that.”
Kim, the son of South Korean immigrants, has been sharply critical of Trump. At one point during the primary, Kim singled out Trump’s Twitter feed, saying, “We are quite frankly a tweet away from a catastrophe every minute.” Meanwhile, Kim has called for expanding health care coverage, protecting the environment and providing a pathway to citizenship for young immigrants who were brought here as children without legal permission.
“When it comes to the president,” he said, “there is just a lot of divisiveness. We always need to respect the office of the president. We need to make sure we are working together with others across the aisle to get things done.”
In the neighboring 6th District — which includes parts of Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties — Handel will face off against either McBath, a former Delta Air Lines flight attendant from Marietta, or Abel, a Sandy Springs businessman.
McBath became a prominent gun control activist after her son Jordan Davis was shot to death at age 17 outside a Florida convenience store six years ago. Everytown for Gun Safety supported her campaign with $830,000 in advertising. In an interview Wednesday morning, she promised to continue highlighting gun violence, calling it a crisis.
“It is neither Democrat nor Republican. Everyone is suffering, so people just want a sense of stability and safety,” she said. “We have to find some common-sense solutions. And that is going to take bipartisan support.”
While recounting his journey here as an immigrant from South Africa, Abel has slammed Trump’s immigration policies, particularly the president’s move to phase out an Obama-era program that is shielding young immigrants from deportation. In a campaign ad he released last month, a grim-faced Abel said of Trump, “I approved this message, sir, because America was a better, more decent and kind place before you.”
Abel said Wednesday that he is not a one-issue candidate.
“I will also be talking about gun safety,” he said. “And I will also be talking about climate change and the need to address the burdensome debt that we face as a country.”