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Two congressional district races still in limbo in Atlanta suburbs

UPDATE: U.S. Rep. Karen Handel concedes Georgia 6th District to Lucy McBath

A pair of competitive congressional races remained too close to call Wednesday, even as Democrat Lucy McBath declared victory over first-term GOP Congresswoman Karen Handel in a suburban Atlanta district that last year played host to the country’s marquee political contest.

Handel, R-Roswell, refused to concede the 6th District House race, which as of press time was within 1 percentage point — enough to trigger a recount should the numbers hold.

“Given the close results of our race, and the fact that the official results at this time are within the 1 percent threshold where a recount is possible, we believe it is prudent to review and assess all data before making additional actions or statements,” Handel said in a statement.

The returns were even closer in the U.S. House district next door in Gwinnett and Forsyth counties. Four-term U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville, clung to a narrow lead over Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux on Wednesday evening.

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Bourdeaux’s campaign vowed to push for a recount should a similar margin remain after roughly 2,500 outstanding provisional ballots from Gwinnett were tallied.

“My entire team is working overtime to make sure that every voter’s voice is heard & their vote is counted,” Bourdeaux tweeted. “Thank you for your continued support.”

Both contests were seen as tests of the Democratic Party’s strength — and antipathy toward President Donald Trump — in Atlanta’s increasingly diverse suburbs.

Drawn by the Legislature to be Republican strongholds, the 6th and 7th districts were not considered competitive until last year. Newt Gingrich, Johnny Isakson and Tom Price previously represented the 6th District covering parts of Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties, and the 7th has not elected a Democrat in a quarter-century.

But Trump only narrowly carried both in 2016, and last year’s closely contested special election to replace Price only further fired up Democrats.

McBath and Bourdeaux both tapped into national fundraising networks to raise millions to run against Handel and Woodall, and they received significant assists from mega-donor Michael Bloomberg on Atlanta television, which helped raise their profiles.

Political elites largely stayed out of the Atlanta contests, giving the Democrats room to define themselves on their own terms. Washington Republicans did not step in to assist Handel in a major way until two weeks ago, and they sat out of Woodall’s race.

Even as major news networks refrained from calling the 6th District race, McBath declared victory early Wednesday afternoon. She promised to use the position to push for new gun control policies, an issue she put at the heart of her campaign.

“I look forward to representing the people of Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, and I pledge to work hard fighting for every single person and family in the district,” said McBath, who became a surrogate for the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety after she lost her teenage son to gun violence in 2012.

Should she win the race, McBath would become the first person of color elected in the 6th District and the third African-American woman to ever represent Georgia in Congress.

“It would also make her seat a top priority for Republicans in 2020. The 6th District holds symbolic importance for Republicans given Handel’s 2017 special election victory there.”

Woodall, meanwhile, acknowledged the close nature of his race was disappointing — he cruised to re-election by upwards of 20 percentage points two years ago — but said he was confident the election returns would continue to trend his way.

“It is true that I prefer the races that we win 60-40. I would trade for that, but I know the voter teams in both of my counties are full of Republicans and Democrats of incredible integrity,” he said in an interview. “We’re going to make sure that every vote gets counted, that every issue is going to be resolved. And at the end of the day we’re going to have a count and I’m going to be prepared to live with that count.”

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, many Republican officials fretted about Woodall’s low-key campaign style, which largely eschewed social media, television advertising and attacking Bourdeaux. Woodall said he was unwilling to change his approach in future campaigns.

“Our style is what we promised the voters when we got here: that we were going to be more about making a difference than making a point,” Woodall said.

“That is the style that folks can count on for me to continue,” he said. “If folks decide they want a more bombastic style, there’s certainly no shortage of people who are happy to provide that for them.”

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