Challengers in 6th Congressional District question McBath’s claim to incumbency

State Rep. Mandisha Thomas, from left, U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath and Cobb County Commissioner Jerica Richardson are running in the 6th Congressional District's Democratic primary on May 21.

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

State Rep. Mandisha Thomas, from left, U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath and Cobb County Commissioner Jerica Richardson are running in the 6th Congressional District's Democratic primary on May 21.

Two challengers in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District are taking on U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath in the Democratic primary May 21, saying they know more about the constituents in the newly redrawn district than she does.

But state Rep. Mandisha A. Thomas and Cobb County Commissioner Jerica Richardson face an uphill battle against an incumbent with name recognition and a massive campaign war chest.

“The one thing that campaign (finance) reports don’t reflect is volunteers,” Thomas said. “The campaign reports don’t reflect the support of the community. The campaign reports don’t reflect the word of mouth.”

Thomas had $10,676.84 in her campaign account as of March 31, compared with McBath’s $1.3 million. Richardson had $1,199.41 in cash on hand at the end of March.

McBath, who lives in Marietta, said she hopes voters in this redrawn district allow her to continue working in Washington. A small percentage of its residents are former constituents from when McBath first served in an older iteration of the 6th District, but she is working to ensure all voters know her record of service.

“The work that I’m getting to do really matters to people that are dependent on their leaders to protect and care for their interests,” she said. “And so, as I’ve always said, I’ll always let the voters decide.”

Both Thomas and Richardson say the boundaries of the districts they currently represent in state and local office mean that far more voters in the 6th Congressional District are their constituents and not McBath’s.

McBath currently represents the 7th Congressional District in Gwinnett County, but she has chosen to run in the newly redrawn 6th.

“There are other individuals that are in this race that changed paperwork and changed what they’re doing,” said Richardson, the race’s first declared candidate. “But I have stayed constant.”

Still, McBath is considered the incumbent because she is the only contender serving in Congress. At that, her challengers have bristled.

“The Honorable McBath is an incumbent in Washington; she’s not an incumbent in this district because it was just created,” Thomas said. “And she has zero voters in this district.”

The 6th Congressional District includes central and south Fulton County, southern Cobb County, eastern Douglas County and the northern tip of Fayette County. The majority of voters are Black and Democratic-leaning, meaning the winner of the primary is likely to prevail in November’s general election when she faces Republican Jeff Criswell, a political newcomer.

McBath has tried to spend as much time in the district as possible for the campaign, but she has declined to take part in debates or attend town halls with the other candidates. Thomas and Richardson both maintain that has denied voters the opportunity to compare and contrast the candidates’ visions for the job.

Still, McBath’s high name recognition, endorsements from the most prominent left-leaning political groups and a campaign account exponentially larger than her opponents’ make her tough to beat in the primary.

And McBath, who first ran for Congress to advocate for gun control in honor of her son who was shot to death in 2012, has a record to run on after three terms in the U.S. House. She was one of the biggest advocates for reducing the cost of insulin to $35 a month, which became law for Medicare patients and spurred many private companies to voluntarily comply.

She also touts her efforts to boost resources for veterans involving workforce development and education, and she says there have been strides with gun safety, such as the bipartisan gun safety law signed in 2022.

“The work that I get to do — it really matters,” the congresswoman said.

Thomas, who lives in South Fulton, has emphasized her accomplishments in the Georgia House as a member of the Agriculture and Consumer Committee and on issues involving environmental justice.

She said if she were elected to Congress, she would focus on laws to address real estate fraud and artificial intelligence, especially as it relates to health care. Thomas estimates that she currently represents about 20% of the voters in the 6th District, and she believes they will choose to send her to Washington over her better-funded opponent.

Richardson first began eyeing the seat as a messy redistricting battle over the boundary lines for Cobb County Commission seats created uncertainty about whether she could run for reelection. Richardson said early on that she did not intend to campaign against an incumbent, but after McBath announced she was entering the race Richardson did not back down.

With the fight over the Cobb maps still ongoing, Richardson said she decided to run for Congress because it gives her an opportunity to keep working for her constituents.

“We started doing a lot of systemic change through my office, and it’s really just building on top of that and continuing to serve,” she said.

Richardson took advantage of the changing demographics in Cobb County and won her seat on the commission in 2020. That same year, Thomas defeated a long-term incumbent to win her state House seat.

McBath defeated U.S. Rep Karen Handel in 2018, winning a previous iteration of the 6th District before switching seats and running in the 7th Congressional District in 2022 after redistricting made her old seat Republican-leaning. Under the new map, the 7th now has mostly conservative voters, and McBath decided to run in the 6th again.

Now, McBath is the well-known establishment candidate with a target on her back.

Early voting for the general primary has begun and will run through May 17. Primary election day for in-person voting is May 21. For more information, visit Georgia Decides, a project of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Atlanta Civic Circle.