Challengers line up to unseat incumbent David Scott in Georgia’s 13th District

The candidates in the May 21 Democratic primary in Georgia's 13th Congressional District are (from top left) Marcus Flowers, U.S. Rep. David Scott, Karen Rene, (from bottom left) Uloma Kama, Brian Johnson and Rashid Malik.

Credit: AP, AJC

Credit: AP, AJC

The candidates in the May 21 Democratic primary in Georgia's 13th Congressional District are (from top left) Marcus Flowers, U.S. Rep. David Scott, Karen Rene, (from bottom left) Uloma Kama, Brian Johnson and Rashid Malik.

As an incumbent with name recognition and a healthy campaign account, U.S. Rep. David Scott is the man to beat in the Democratic primary in Georgia’s 13th Congressional District.

But that hasn’t stopped a half-dozen others from signing up to challenge him this year. Scott, who turns 79 next month, has been slowed down by age and health challenges. Redistricting also drastically shifted the boundaries of the 13th District, meaning that Scott has never represented most of its voters before.

Mark Baker, a former South Fulton City Council member who ran unsuccessfully against Scott in 2022, sees an opening. Baker said 70% of voters in the 13th are new, meaning the incumbent now has less of an advantage.

“Gwinnett County has the most voters in our district,” he said. “So I just thought that was also an opportunity.”

Because of the way the district is drawn with an electorate that is heavily Black and Democratic, the winner of the primary will be the favorite against the Republican challenger in November.

While on the campaign trail, Baker has highlighted his efforts to back reparations for descendants of American slaves, and if elected, he said he would work to secure reproductive rights and voting rights.

Less is known about Scott’s vision if he were to be elected to a 12th term. In recent campaign cycles, he has declined to participate in debates or show up at town halls and voter forums where he would share the stage with competitors.

Instead, he uses his fundraising advantage to speak to constituents through mailers, billboards and radio ads. Over the past year, Scott has used his office to host events for seniors to help connect them with federal agencies such as the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

He touts his record of achievements during two decades in Congress, including becoming the first Black person to chair the powerful House Agriculture Committee. Scott also heralds his ability to obtain funding in federal spending bills for agriculture and other industries important to Georgia and for Black colleges.

“I have always prioritized bringing federal dollars back home to my district in Georgia,” he wrote in a March news release celebrating the earmarks he secured this year. “And I appreciate working with my local city and county partners to ensure that they have the financial resources to prosper.”

Scott declined a request to be interviewed for this article.

As of May 1, he had $481,594 in cash on hand, according to the Federal Election Commission database. The remaining six candidates have only raised a fraction of that amount, even when their money is combined.

Raising the second-most dollars is former East Point City Council Member Karen Rene, who had $16,365 in her account as of March 31. Rene resigned from the council to run against Scott.

She says she has been endorsed by various elected officials and community leaders, including state Rep. Karen Bennett, former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Reginald Jackson. Such supporters convinced Rene that she could run and win, she said.

“They were very concerned about Congressman David Scott’s health issues,” Rene said. “And they looked at my record of voting and how I treated my residents, and I’m very well loved from my constituent base and residencies.”

Rene said that if elected she would focus on bringing infrastructure and transportation improvement to the district, boosting public education and increasing access to affordable housing.

Scott has always represented a south metro district, even though he lives outside the district in Atlanta. But this year, with the boundaries shifted to east metro suburbs, none of the Democrats in the primary can say they live in the district.

Federal law only requires members of the U.S. House to live in the states they represent, not within their district boundaries.

Rene said she has worked hard to reach out to voters and explain why she should be a successor to Scott, who she believes has done a respectable job but should pass the torch on to a new generation. She said she has begun showing up in places where voters tell her no other candidate has been.

“I’ve been able to navigate and meet a lot of residents now,” she said. “A lot of times I’m the only candidate in the room from the congressional 13th District.”

Other candidates include Uloma Kama, a physician and public health advocate, and Brian Johnson, an attorney. Johnson’s campaign is focused heavily on younger voters, particularly concerning the issue of legalizing marijuana, which he supports.

During a recent debate, Rashid Malik, another candidate in the Democratic field, focused heavily on international affairs, particularly on the need to end the conflict between Israel and Hamas and bring peace to the Middle East.

At the same debate, much of the attention was focused on Marcus Flowers, who decided to run in the 13th District after unsuccessfully challenging Republican U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene in her 14th District in northwest Georgia in 2022.

Flowers, a military veteran and former defense contractor, raised $17 million during that campaign. But this cycle he has struggled to match that fundraising prowess in a district where his challengers include a long-term incumbent and others with local elected experience. He said during a debate that his platform is still focused heavily on themes of preserving democracy as a response to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Flowers did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this article.

Early voting for the general primary has begun and will run through Friday. 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.

This story has been updated to correct state Rep. Karen Bennett’s title and to remove an incorrect reference to Karen Rene’s length of service on the East Point City Council.