The 6th Congressional District race: What you need to know

Kevin Abel and Lucy McBath.
Kevin Abel and Lucy McBath.

ExploreUPDATE: Georgia U.S. Rep. Karen Handel concedes to Democrat Lucy McBath

It wasn’t all that long ago when Democrats had trouble finding any credible candidates to challenge the GOP’s dynasty in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District.

But the political grounds shifted after Democrat Jon Ossoff, a previously unheard of millennial filmmaker, nearly won the seat in a special election last spring. Ossoff ultimately lost to former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, but the contest energized Democrats in suburban districts like the 6th that had long been controlled by Republicans.

This year, two political newbies — Kevin Abel and Lucy McBath — are facing off in a July 24 Democratic runoff to take on Handel in the November general election.


Abel: 53 years old; University of Texas graduate; small business owner

McBath: 58 years old; Virginia State University graduate; gun control advocate, former flight attendant

Biggest claim to fame

Abel: Started a technology consulting company with his wife in Alpharetta that now employs two-dozen people.

McBath: Became a national gun control advocate after her teenage son was fatally shot following a dispute over loud music.

Favorite talking points

Abel frequently discusses his personal journey as a South African immigrant who went on to start a successful business, and he stresses the need to preserve the American dream for others. He's had particularly strong words about President Donald Trump's move to end an Obama-era program that shielded young immigrants from deportation.

He’s also spoken about the need to improve civil discourse in politics and rebuilding faith in government.

“I am committed to engaging earnestly with members of both parties to find the common ground for which our fellow Americans across the country so deeply yearn,” Abel states on his campaign website.

McBath's family history is front and center in her campaign. She frequently discusses the tragic death of her son in 2012 and how it prompted her to become politically involved as a spokeswoman for the gun control groups Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

"Either you are completely about the business of saving people's lives or you're not," McBath said in an interview this spring. "There's no in between."

She also frequently discusses her past bouts with breast cancer and the need to protect the Affordable Care Act and women’s health care access, including abortion rights.

What they don’t want to talk about

Abel has been framed by McBath as a moderate who's out of sync with Democrats. She's cited articles from his personal blog in which he pondered the need for a centrist third party.

Abel hasn't denied that he authored those posts, and he's emphasized the need to appeal to the political middle even while pledging his allegiance to the Democratic Party.

Abel also backtracked after criticizing McBath for benefiting from dark money spent by the political arm of Everytown. He said he supports the mission of the gun control group but also said he wished it would spend its money elsewhere.

McBath has made gun control and her son's death the cornerstones of her campaign for Congress, but she's been criticized by Abel for being too focused on a single issue.

She in recent months has moved to broaden her portfolio, particularly on health care and immigration-related issues. Still, she’s stuck to stories from her own life to frame why those issues are important.

McBath has also been forced to answer questions about a brief move to Tennessee that caused her to miss Georgia elections in 2016. McBath said she was living with her husband, a Tennessee resident, during a family emergency and that she has since returned to living in Marietta full time.

Biggest backers

Abel has self-funded a sizable chunk of his campaign, loaning himself $150,000 as of July 4. He's also boosted his fundraising efforts in recent months, with most of his campaign donations coming from inside Georgia.

McBath had a slow start to the moneymaking game after switching from a statehouse bid to a congressional race at the eleventh hour. She's recently ramped up fundraising with the help of the left-leaning Democratic group Emily's List. Her efforts have also been aided by outside spending from the Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund. The gun control group's super PAC has spent more than $1.1 million on her behalf in recent months.

What they’re about to get into

The winner of the July 24 contest will take on Handel in the Nov. 6 general election.

After emerging from last year’s special election with a 4-point margin of victory, the Roswell Republican is battle-hardened and well-funded, and she’s spent the past year quietly raising money. She kicked off July with roughly $1 million in the bank — a substantial financial advantage over her opponents.

Should either Abel or McBath defeat Handel, the winner would face immediate tests upon arriving in Washington.

Among the first decisions would be whether to support Nancy Pelosi as the House Democratic leader. The California septuagenarian has been under increasing pressure to step down to let a new generation of leaders come forward.

Abel has said that “new leadership is desperately needed in both parties.” McBath has sidestepped the question, refusing to comment on the leadership race before the full slate of candidates is known.

Why it matters

Democrats haven’t held control of the 6th Congressional District, which stretches from east Cobb County to north DeKalb County, for decades. Winning the seat would be a coup for the party, in no small part because of Ossoff’s loss and the seat’s previous occupants, which include former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.

Democrats would also see a pickup in the 6th District as a sign of the party's renewed viability in traditionally Republican suburban districts.