Nov 6, 2018 Atlanta: Georgia voters watch the shifting balance of power take place during the Karen Handel, U.S. Representative, GA 6th Congressional District, election watch party as returns come in late Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Two suburban Atlanta congressional races too close to call

A pair of congressional races in suburban Atlanta remained in limbo early Wednesday morning with razor-thin vote margins separating the candidates.

In Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, Democrat challenger Lucy McBath held a slim lead over incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Karen Handel. Nearby, in the 7th Congressional District, Republican Congressman Rob Woodall maintained an edge over his Democratic opponent Carolyn Bourdeaux. Both the races were separated by a few thousand votes each.

Both races were being closely watched to see how suburban voters were responding to Republican President Donald Trump.

November 6, 2018 - Sandy Springs, Ga: Lucy McBath speaks to supporters during her watch party at the Westin Atlanta Perimeter North Tuesday, November 6, 2018, in Sandy Springs, Ga. McBath, a Democrat, is running for Georgia’s 6th congressional district. (JASON GETZ/SPECIAL TO THE AJC)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

If McBath’s lead holds and Handel is defeated, it would mark a surprising upset in a district that has long been coveted by Democrats. The 6th District covers portions of Fulton, Cobb and DeKalb counties.

The 6th District matchup this year drew far less national attention than the last time the district was in play, when Handel, Georgia’s former secretary of state and a former Fulton County Commission chair, fended off a star-studded challenge from political newcomer Jon Ossoff.

He raised a record-breaking $30 million and enjoyed robust celebrity support but lost by 4 percentage points.

Nov 6, 2018 Atlanta: Karen Handel, U.S. Representative, GA 6th Congressional District, updates her supporters as results trickle in at her election watch party on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Ossoff showed up at McBath’s watch party and expressed confidence early on that she would manage to unseat his former opponent. He pointed to Trump, who held campaign rallies stumping for Republican candidates including Georgia’s Brian Kemp, as a motivating factor in voter turnout.

“There’s no doubt (Trump) is a huge part of why there’s this much activism, this much concern about the country, why so many people, for example in the 6th District, who may have voted Republican historically are questioning their political identity and asking whether the GOP under Donald Trump really reflects our values,” Ossoff said.

But Handel wasn’t conceding defeat.

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“I have a knack for the close ones, y’all. There are still precincts coming in from north Fulton,” Handel told supporters who made it to the end of the night and into the morning at her watch party. “If it keeps going our way it’ll be a win. Unfortunately I don’t think it’ll be tonight.”

McBath also was playing it safe.

“It appears clear that the election in the 6th Congressional District will not be decided this evening,” McBath said as Tuesday night became Wednesday morning. “Now we look forward over the next few days to having the voice of the remaining voters to be heard. It is imperative that every vote be counted. Until that time, we cannot call this race one way or the other.”

She joined the dozens of supporters left in the audience in a deafening chant of “Flip the 6th” before adding, “I grew up with my parents working tirelessly in the civil rights movement to make sure that everyone had the ability to vote. And so we will make sure that everyone that has cast a vote has the ability to be heard. So hang in there, we have a couple more days to go, but in the end we win.”

Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux is challenging U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville, in the 7th Congressional District.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In the other hotly-contested congressional race in Atlanta’s northern suburbs, Woodall and Bourdeaux remained locked in a close race. The 7th Congressional District covers most of Gwinnett County as well as a swath of south Forsyth County.

Spencer Smith, the Democrat’s campaign manager, said he hoped the vote margin would remain slim enough to trigger a recount. He said the campaign would “aggressively pursue” all legal opportunities to ensure the ballots were counted correctly.

“This campaign will fight like hell,” Smith said.

Woodall ended his election watch party in Buford late Tuesday without declaring victory, and he largely relinquished the results of the contest to fate.

The winner of the race for Georgia's governor seat has not been determined. Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp remain neck and neck. Abrams' campaign manager Lauren Groh Wargo said she wanted to wait for more votes to be counted. Kemp did not declare victory, but he said, "The math is on our side to win this election." If neither candidate gets at least 50% plus one vote, the race heads to a runoff on Dec. 4. Georgia has never had a general election runoff for governor.

“I trust the American voter,” Woodall said. “I think the American voter gets it right. We have elections every two years. Sometimes folks win, sometimes folks lose. But it’s having that choice that makes the government work.”

If Woodall wins, it would be the narrowest victory of his eight-year congressional career and a disappointment after cruising to reelection by more than 20 percentage points two years ago.

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