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Georgia 7th: A look at who could run

It didn’t take long after five-term U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall announced he wouldn’t seek re-election for a sprawling field of roughly a dozen would-be candidates to come into focus. 

The last time Georgia’s 7th Congressional District seat was open in 2010, no fewer than eight Republicans jostled to represent the Gwinnett and Forsyth-based seat, which hasn’t elected a Democrat since the mid-1990s. 

A similar number of GOP contenders, including several well-known state legislators, could emerge in the months ahead as the party looks to hold onto the seat in 2020. 

Another fierce battle could come on the Democratic side of the ticket. The party for years struggled to recruit formidable candidates in the north Atlanta suburbs, but changing demographics have helped put the district within reach. 

Georgia State University Professor Carolyn Bourdeaux emerged from a six-person Democratic primary last year and nearly toppled Woodall, coming up 433 votes short following a recount

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Bourdeaux has already announced she’ll run again in 2020, but her path to the Democratic nomination may not be a clear one as other well-connected elected officials eye the seat. 

One thing is already evident heading into 2020: the contest is likely to attract outside national attention to a degree the 7th District has never experienced before. 

Here’s a look at some of the candidates the Atlanta Journal-Constitution will be watching in the months ahead: 

Democrats 

Carolyn Bourdeaux

The public policy professor and former state budget official was a political neophyte when she announced her bid to challenge Woodall in 2017. After emerging from a testy Democratic primary runoff, Bourdeaux proved to be a formidable fundraiser as she campaigned on a health care-focused platform. She came within a hair of defeating Woodall and recently announced she’ll run again in 2020. 

State Rep. Brenda Lopez

Lopez made history in 2016 when she became the first Latina elected to the Georgia General Assembly. A native of Mexico who came to the U.S. at age 5, Lopez is an attorney who helps immigrants become U.S. citizens. She represents a Norcross-area district and is seen as a rising star within the state party, and is considering her options. 

State Rep. Pete Marin

First elected in 2002, Marin was one of the first Latinos in the Georgia Legislature and has focused his proposals on targeting gang violence, expanding translation services in courts and combating racial profiling. He’s said he’s talking with his family and supporters about a potential run. 

State Rep. Sam Park

Park, who represents a Lawrenceville House district, is also a history-making public official. In 2016, he became the first openly gay man to be elected to the Georgia Legislature. He’s also one of the only Asian-Americans serving in the body. He plans to wait until after the legislative session to make a decision. 

Marqus Cole

Cole was the first person to formally announce his candidacy for the 2020 race. The Snellville resident co-founded his own law office, which focuses on civil, criminal and family law. Woodall’s retirement, he said,is a sign the community needs a “fresh voice” to represent it.

Nabilah Islam

The Lawrenceville native has been involved in political activism around the nation since getting her start on Andre Dickens’ run for Atlanta City Council and Jason Carter’s 2014 bid for governor. She raised cash for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, and later worked for the Democratic National Committee. She announced her intent to run for the seat in February. 

Republicans

State Sen. Renee Unterman

One of only two Republican women in the state Senate, Unterman is a former nurse who was the longtime leader of the Senate Health Committee – until her ouster earlier this year. Since then, Unterman has been even more vocal in her frustration with GOP leadership and has expressed interest in the U.S. House seat.

Former state Sen. David Shafer

Long a political powerbroker in Gwinnett, Shafer was pro tem of the state Senate before he stepped down to run for lieutenant governor. He came within a hair of winning the race outright before he was defeated in a runoff by Geoff Duncan, and still retains a network of support in the region. 

Mike Royal

Royal is a longtime Gwinnett politico who was chair of the county GOP and a veteran member of the state school board. He has deep roots in Gwinnett – he graduated from Brookwood High – and now owns an insurance firm. He’s contemplating a run. 

Ex-state Rep. Scott Hilton

Hilton started his career as a newspaper analyst in Philadelphia before moving to Atlanta to become a banking executive – and launch a political career. He was considered a rising star in the Georgia Legislature before he was defeated in the blue wave that swept the suburbs. He’s weighing a bid.

State Rep. David Clark

The combat veteran is a graduate of the Army Ranger School who fought in Afghanistan and later launched a real estate brokerage firm and nutrition company in Gwinnett. He was elected in 2014 to represent a Buford-based district, and was a key surrogate for Gov. Brian Kemp during the 2018 campaign. 

State Sen. P.K. Martin

The insurance agent was first elected to the Senate in 2014 after eight years on the Lawrenceville city council. He was selected this year to chair the Senate Education Committee, giving him a prominent voice in k-12 policy. He’s unlikely to run, but evaluating his options. 

Shane Hazel

The Marine Corps veteran unsuccessfully challenged Woodall in last year’s GOP primary, casting himself as the true conservative who would limit himself to four terms if elected. 

Rick Desai

Desai is a Gwinnett County businessman and former chair of the Georgia Indo-American Chamber of Commerce. He served on the transition team for Kemp and was appointed to state commissions by both Sonny Perdue and Nathan Deal. He said he’s been approached by community leaders to run but he’s undecided. 

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