2 longtime Georgia House incumbents appear to be defeated

Stickers await voters on Tuesday, Aug.  11, 2020  during the Georgia Primary in Atlanta. (John Spink/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Stickers await voters on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020 during the Georgia Primary in Atlanta. (John Spink/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Credit: John Spink

Credit: John Spink

After nearly 30 years, preliminary election results appear to show that two House Democrats will not be returning to the Capitol for another term.

According to unofficial results released by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office early Wednesday, state Rep. Michele Henson and Sharon Beasley-Teague both appear to have been defeated by challengers in the Democratic primary runoff election.

There are thousands of absentee ballots that have not yet been counted and could change the results.

There is no Republican on the ballot in either race, so if the results stand, Zulma Lopez will be the next representative of House District 86 and Mandisha Thomas will represent House District 65.

It was the first runoff for Henson, who was first elected in 1990, in at least 16 years. Beasley-Teague had not faced a runoff opponent since she first ran for office in 1992.

Lopez, an immigration attorney and first-time candidate, had said that the district needed new representation from someone who had managed a small business as they tackle the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Henson received about 41% of the June primary vote, while Lopez received nearly 30%. Since no candidate received a majority of the votes, the runoff was required.

Beasley-Teague fell just short of the necessary votes in June to avoid a runoff in the House District 65 race, bringing in 49.2% of the primary vote. Thomas, a small business owner, finished with 36.6% of ballots cast in the three-person race.

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Henson and Beasley-Teague were the only incumbents in 16 legislative runoff elections Tuesday, with most of the other races between candidates seeking to replace a retiring lawmaker or aiming for the nomination to challenge a sitting lawmaker in the opposing political party in November.

Some precincts in Floyd and Macon-Bibb counties reported problems with voting machines early in the day, but voting in the rest of the state went smoothly. Crowds were much smaller than during the June primary, when voting issues caused the tallying of votes to drag into the next morning.

Members of both parties have set their sights on several House races in the northern Atlanta suburbs, where Democrats have chipped away at Republican strongholds.

For years, legislative contests had been decided during the primary election due to districts being drawn in ways that make most of them solidly Republican or solidly Democrat.

But this year, two-thirds of the legislative races — 120 — are being contested in the general election, up from about 100 two-party races in 2018 and a marked jump from 2016, when voters in only about 50 districts had a choice after the primary.

In 2018, Democrats picked up 11 seats in the House and two in the Senate — the biggest gains by the party in about 20 years — mostly in Atlanta’s northern suburbs. In 2016, Democrats won both Cobb and Gwinnett counties in the presidential election for the first time since Jimmy Carter was on the ballot.

And this year’s election is important for both parties, especially for Democrats, who want a strong say as lawmakers draw new voting districts after the 2020 census. If Republicans succeed in maintaining control of both chambers, Democrats could face another decade struggling to gain ground in the Legislature.

Republicans have controlled both legislative chambers since 2005, but Democrats are battling to flip at least 16 of the House’s 180 seats to gain control. It’s a tougher fight for Democrats in the Senate, where they would need to pick up eight of the chamber’s 56 seats to become the majority party.

ExploreResults for local runoff elections in metro Atlanta by county
ExploreUpdates on runoffs for Georgia U.S. House seats