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Democrats make major inroads in suburban Atlanta legislative contests

Democrats appeared to have made major inroads into Atlanta’s northern suburbs in Tuesday’s General Assembly elections but Republicans held strong in small-town Georgia.

There was always going to be big turnover in the General Assembly heading into the 2019 session because so many lawmakers retired or quit to run for higher office.

Some votes had yet to be counted, but at least six incumbent Republican House members from metro Atlanta were either behind or lost in bids for re-election as of early Wednesday. Democratic candidates also appeared to have won seats given up by Reps. Tom Taylor, R-Dunwoody, Joyce Chandler, R-Grayson, David Casas, R-Lilburn and Rich Golick, R-Smyna, while others remained close.

In the Senate, former Democratic state Rep. Sally Harrell ousted Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody and Democrat Zahra Karinshak won the seat vacated by former Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer, R-Duluth, who lost a bid for lieutenant governor.

Meanwhile, Republicans regained a House seat based in Americus they lost in 2016 and were ahead in two Athens-area posts they lost in special elections last year.

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Going into the election Republicans held advantages of 114-64 in the House, with two vacant seats, and 37-19 in the Senate.

While Republicans went into Tuesday hoping to regain seats lost in recent years and hold onto those where incumbents are quitting, Democrats sought to make inroads this year and in 2020 before lawmakers redraw political voter boundaries for the General Assembly and congressional districts following the once-a-decade census.

The General Assembly gets to pick its own districts, so the process could cement GOP control throughout the 2020s or give Democrats hope of eventually regaining the House and Senate. Republicans have run the state Senate since 2002 and House since after the 2004 elections.

Republicans had hoped to win back an Atlanta-area Senate seat taken in a special election last year by Democrat Jen Jordan. The post had been held by Hunter Hill, who quit to run unsuccessfully for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. Jordan was faced Leah Aldridge, who was the top Republican vote-getter in last year’s race. But Jordan looked to have won a solid victory.

The GOP had also hoped to keep a seat held for about 20 years by Golick in parts of Vinings, Smyrna and Mableton. Republican Matt Bentley faced Democrat Erick Allen in a race seen as a potential bellwether for suburban Atlanta, which has become increasingly competitive for Democrats in recent elections. Allen appeared to have won.

While votes were yet to be counted in the races, Republicans looked to have retaken two Athens-area seats won by Democratic state Reps. Deborah Gonzalez and Jonathan Wallace in special elections last year. The districts had been previously held by Republicans, and Wallace’s in particular was drawn as a GOP district. The early returns showed Marcus Wiedower of Watkinsville beating Wallace, while Republican Houston Gaines — who lost to Gonzalez last year — was beating her Tuesday.

House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, D-Luthersville, beat back a challenge in a district south of Atlanta from Republican Leonard Gomez, a former Grantville city councilman. Trammell said Gomez didn’t live in the district, but the Secretary of State’s Office rejected his attempt to kick the Republican off the ballot.

Further south, the last Republican lawmaker to represent a black-majority district and a comebacking former Republican who lost his seat in 2016 both won.

In the Americus area, Democrat Bardin Hooks, son of powerful former state Sen.George Hooks, had looked to beat ex-longtime state Rep. Mike Cheokas, who switched to the Republican Party midway through his 12 years in the state House. Cheokas lost his seat two years ago, but the man who beat him, Democratic state Rep. Bill McGowan, didn’t seek re-election, Cheokas re-won the seat.

In far southwest Georgia, state Rep. Gerald Greene of Cuthbert, who has represented his district for 36 years, beat back the challenge of Democrat Joyce Barlow, a registered nurse from Dougherty County outside of Albany. Greene, who switched to the Republican Party in 2010, is the last member of the GOP to represent a majority-black district.

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