Two Democrats face off to replace Republican in Georgia Senate

Democrats in Fulton and Cobb counties are celebrating the fact that they flipped Georgia's 6th Senate District, forcing a runoff election between two members of their party to replace former Sen. Hunter Hill.

Now they are trying to attract Republican voters to their cause.

Strategists expected the runoff to feature one Democrat and one Republican, matching what candidates say is the political makeup of the district’s voters. Instead, on Dec. 5, strategists say voters will select either a candidate who is running as a moderate Democrat or one who has received endorsements from many of the state’s progressive organizations.

Jaha Howard, a pediatric dentist who lives in Smyrna, said though he is a Democrat, some of his more moderate political views could help him get things done in the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

“I’m a Democrat, and I’m going to work for Democratic values,” Howard told supporters last month at a meet-and-greet in Smyrna. “There are two types of Democrats in this race — one that’s willing to fight to build bridges and one that’s willing to fight.”

Jen Jordan, an attorney running next week against Howard, said while she is more liberal on social issues, she pushes back against being labeled the “progressive candidate” in a moderate district.

“When we talk about this district being moderate — where it’s moderate is fiscally,” Jordan said. “I’m a fiscal moderate.”

While Jordan was the leading vote-getter Nov. 7, more than half of the voters cast ballots for one of the Republican candidates in the race. Howard received the second most votes in his second bid for the seat in two years.

Howard said his campaign approach will appeal to Republicans who may be used to having someone from their party represent them. Hill, a Republican, vacated the seat he held for five years to run for governor.

“We believe that the best approach to helping families, schools and businesses in this district thrive is to build bridges with others we may not always agree with,” Howard said. “While the most extreme voices in either party tend to dominate the conversation, we believe that most folks live in the broad middle and aren’t interested in partisan bickering.”

By flipping the seat from Republican to Democrat, voters broke the supermajority held by the GOP in the state Senate. A party with a supermajority — two-thirds of voters — can pass proposed constitutional amendments without any votes from the minority party.

Two Democrats also will face off Tuesday in a runoff to replace longtime state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, who vacated his seat for an unsuccessful run for Atlanta mayor.

Paralegal Linda Pritchett of South Fulton and Nikema Williams, a Vine City resident who works for Planned Parenthood, are hoping to represent the 39th Senate District that stretches from Buckhead to South Fulton.

Different approaches

In the 6th District, Howard and Jordan have taken different approaches to Tuesday’s election.

The socio-economically diverse district stretches from Smyrna to parts of Buckhead.

Jordan put an emphasis on early voting to make sure the people who voted for her the first time cast their ballot in her favor again. Howard focused on getting moderate and Republican voters in Cobb County back to the polls — even campaigning in Hill’s neighborhood.

The district has become increasingly competitive in recent elections. Howard narrowly lost to Hill last year. He and Jordan received the most votes of the 24,000 cast, but together the five Republicans in the race secured more than half of the total.

That led state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, a candidate for secretary of state, to say he would file a bill altering the special election process by requiring party primary elections when a seat opens up.

Both candidates are unsure whether Republican voters will stay home rather than cast a ballot for a Democrat. Jordan said she’s more concerned about Atlanta’s Democratic voters who didn’t vote for either of the candidates in the city’s mayoral runoff.

“If your candidate doesn’t (make the runoff), you tend to be less excited and less inclined to go back out and vote again,” she said.

The Atlanta mayor’s race and a runoff for Fulton County Commission chairman will likely bring voters who live in those districts back to the polls, but Cobb voters have no other races on the ballot.

That could hurt Howard, who dominated in Cobb, getting about 43 percent of the votes — nearly twice the votes received by Jordan. But Jordan led the field in Fulton, pulling in nearly 26 percent there. Howard came in fourth in Fulton in November, with almost 12 percent.

Garnering support

Several progressive politicians and organizations, including the gay rights group Georgia Equality and abortion rights advocates Planned Parenthood, have endorsed Jordan. And the attorney plans to hold a rally and canvass Saturday with Democrat Jon Ossoff, who lost this year's battle for the 6th Congressional District.

Howard has taken a more grass-roots approach, focusing on connecting with individual voters across the district.

“I’m being personal and authentic,” Howard said. “Folks realize that no one party can own all the best ideas. To get things done, we have to work together. There are few places in Georgia you can go with that approach and be successful.”

Cliff Johnson, who lives in Hill’s neighborhood in Paces Ferry Park and typically votes Republican, said while he had some concerns about a Democrat representing him, he agrees with a lot of the ideas Howard shared with him while the candidate was knocking on doors last month.

His wife, Mary Johnson, said Howard, by living and having his dental practice in the district, proved to her he cares about the community.

Howard has spent the past five years working to improve public education through the creation of the parent group Wave of Excellence, something he said positions him to best address some of the state’s poorer performing schools.

“I could see myself voting for him,” Cliff Johnson said. “I would much rather a Republican, but we’ll let it play out.”

Jordan supporter Gail Carney-Carder, a California native who now lives in Smyrna, said the first-time candidate's laid-back demeanor was appealing to her.

“I’m impressed with her positive energy, confidence and determination to make things better,” said Carney-Carder, who typically votes Democratic.

Jordan said her background as an attorney will help her to target fraud that costs the state millions of dollars. Jordan said she’s successfully sued health care companies for committing Medicaid and Medicare fraud.

“Nobody wants their tax money to be wasted,” she said.

Jordan said she believes her passion will help lift her to victory next week.

“The mood of the country is that people are more inclined to start to look at the person and not necessarily the party,” she said. “People are looking for more than tag line politics.”

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