Georgia Legislature: Races to watch in the November election

Fulton County voters will choose a new state senator to replace Sen. Nikema Williams (right). The special election was called after Williams became the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House after Rep. John Lewis died in July. (Hyosub Shin /



Fulton County voters will choose a new state senator to replace Sen. Nikema Williams (right). The special election was called after Williams became the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House after Rep. John Lewis died in July. (Hyosub Shin /

The results of the Nov. 3 elections could bring changes to the Georgia State House and Senate. Here is a look at some of the closely watched races in the Georgia Legislature.

Fulton County

Senate District 39

A special primary election is being held to fill the Fulton County-based seat that was vacated when state Sen. Nikema Williams became the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House after U.S. Rep. John Lewis died in July.

Four Democratic candidates have signed up to run for the vacant seat: Zan Fort, an insurance agent and son of former state Sen. Vincent Fort, who held the seat before Williams; Sonya Halpern, a former advertising and marketing executive; Jo Anna Potts, an entrepreneur; and Linda Pritchett, a paralegal who has launched several unsuccessful bids for elected office, including a June loss to Williams in the primary election.

No Republicans filed to run earlier this year, so only Democrats can vie for the seat.

Senate District 56

State Sen. John Albers, an Alpharetta Republican, won a close race two years ago — getting about 52% of the vote. Albers' seat is one of several based in Atlanta’s northern suburbs that Democrats have set their sights on.

Albers is facing Sarah Beeson, a Roswell Democrat who works for her family’s environmental consulting business and has called the Senate seat one of the state’s “most flippable.” Albers was first elected in 2010. He serves as the chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee and is the chamber’s Republican Caucus deputy whip.

House District 48

Republican Betty Price is attempting to regain the seat she narrowly lost two years ago to Mary Robichaux. Robichaux squeaked by with just over 50% of votes cast — 150 votes of about 22,000 cast.

Price is a retired anesthesiologist and wife of Tom Price, a former Georgia Senate leader, congressman and secretary of Health and Human Services in the Trump administration. Robichaux is a health care consultant. Both live in Roswell.

House District 51

In another rematch of 2018, freshman state Rep. Josh McLaurin, an Atlanta Democrat, again faces Republican Alex Kaufman of Roswell. Both are attorneys.

It’s a seat McLaurin flipped last election cycle and one Republicans are eyeing to take back. McLaurin narrowly defeated Kaufman with almost 52% of the vote. McLaurin filled the seat of Republican Wendell Willard, who retired from office.

House District 54

Democrat Betsy Holland narrowly defeated Republican incumbent state Rep. Beth Beskin two years ago, getting almost 52% of the vote.

An Atlanta executive with WarnerMedia, Holland is facing Republican Lynsey Rudder, an attorney. Rudder also lives in Atlanta.

The Atlanta-based district includes parts of Buckhead.

Clayton County

Senate District 44

Incumbent Democrat Gail Davenport is running against Republican Benjamin Brooks for this Senate seat in this heavily Democratic community on metro Atlanta’s Southside.

Davenport is focusing on job creation, stopping home foreclosures and improving education. Brooks says he’s not interested in rubbing elbows and producing fake smiles, but protecting the rights of his constituents and making the Southside a great place to raise children, work and live.

House District 63

David Callahan, a Republican, will take on Democratic incumbent Debra Bazemore to represent this district, which includes parts of Clayton, Fayette and Fulton counties.

Bazemore, who serves on the Human Relations and Aging and Intragovernmental Coordination committees, defeated Democrat Kenneth “Ken” Kincaid in June to take on Callahan, a part-time driver who once ran against U.S. Rep. David Scott in the 13th Congressional District. Kincaid plans to address issues of school choice, justice reform and opposition to abortion if elected, according to his website.

Cobb County

Senate District 32

This is the third time state Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, a Marietta Republican, will face Democrat Christine Triebsch in an election.

The two emerged as the top vote-getters in a 2017 special election to replace Republican state Sen. Judson Hill, who vacated his seat to make an unsuccessful bid for Congress, before Kirkpatrick defeated Triebsch, a Marietta attorney, in the runoff.

Kirkpatrick, an orthopedic hand surgeon, won again in 2018 with about 57% of votes cast.

House District 35

Incumbent state Rep. Ed Setzler, an Acworth Republican, narrowly defeated his Democratic opponent in 2018, the first time he’s faced general election opposition since 2010. He won with just more than 52% of votes cast. Setzler, who works for an engineering firm, was first elected in 2004.

Democrats pledged last year to challenge Setzler after he sponsored legislation that would ban many abortions. Gov. Brian Kemp signed the bill into law, but a federal judge ruled it was unconstitutional and blocked it from taking effect. The decision is being appealed.

This year, Setzler is facing Democrat Kyle Rinaudo on the November ballot. Rinaudo is a music teacher from Acworth. Setzler serves as the chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee.

House District 37

Another seat Republicans hope to take back into their ranks is the one Democrat Mary Frances Williams flipped two years ago when she narrowly defeated an incumbent Republican lawmaker. She won with just more than 50% of the vote.

Williams, a retired public policy advocate, is facing Republican Rose Wing, a former Cobb County assistant district attorney and first-time candidate. Both are from Marietta.

House District 40

Erick Allen, a Smyrna Democrat, flipped the vacant Cobb County House seat when he won in 2018. He defeated his Republican opponent with nearly 55% of votes cast. This year, he is facing Republican Taryn Bowman.

Allen owns a workforce development consulting company. Bowman, also a Smyrna resident, owns a home casting business, where she serves as a liaison between the film and television industry and homeowners.

House District 43

Two years ago, state Rep. Sharon Cooper, a Marietta Republican, narrowly defeated Democratic challenger Luisa Wakeman with almost 52% of votes cast.

It was the first time Cooper had faced a Democratic opponent since 2010. She was first elected in 1996.

The two Marietta residents will face off again this year. Cooper, who is chairwoman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, is a former nursing instructor and medical administrator. Wakeman is a flight attendant and cardiac care nurse.

DeKalb County

Senate District 40

Sally Harrell, an Atlanta Democrat, ousted a Republican incumbent two years ago to win the north Fulton County-based seat. She won with nearly 55% of votes cast. The seat is one of several lost by Republican incumbents that members of the party are seeking to regain this year.

A social worker, Harrell previously served three terms in the Georgia House. She is being challenged by Republican Garry Guan, a native of China and naturalized citizen who moved to the United States to work as a translator and interpreter.

Senate District 41

Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, who served for the better part of three decades, is not seeking reelection to the seat that covers the Stone Mountain and Clarkston areas, plus parts of neighboring Gwinnett County.

Episcopal priest Kim Jackson, who would become Georgia’s first openly LGBTQ state senator, emerged from a four-way Democratic primary and will face Republican William Freeman, an Army veteran from Stone Mountain.

House District 79

Democrat Mike Wilensky flipped this district — which covers Dunwoody and parts of Doraville and Chamblee — with about 54% of the vote in 2018.

Wilensky, an attorney, has co-sponsored bills to add sexual orientation, gender and age to Georgia’s nondiscrimination laws and repeal the state’s campus gun law. He has been endorsed as an abortion rights candidate. He’s being challenged by Republican Andrea Johnson, whose website describes her as a caseworker at the St. Vincent de Paul Society, anti-abortion and an advocate for local control of schools

House District 80

Democrat Matthew Wilson won this seesawing northern DeKalb County district in 2018, ousting a Republican incumbent who had won the seat by defeating a Democratic incumbent.

This time around, Wilson, an attorney and former public school teacher, will face Republican Alan Cole, an Army veteran and retired business owner.

Gwinnett County

Senate District 9

State Sen. P.K. Martin, a Lawrenceville Republican, narrowly won reelection two years ago — with almost 52% of votes cast — making his race a top target for state Democrats.

Martin, an insurance agent, is being challenged by first-time candidate Nikki Merritt, a Democrat from Grayson who retired from the telecommunications industry. Martin serves as chairman of the Senate Education and Youth Committee.

Senate District 45

The race to fill the seat vacated by longtime state Sen. Renee Unterman got a little bit of buzz last month when former President Barack Obama endorsed the Democratic candidate.

Obama put his support behind Matielyn Jones of Suwanee, who works as an administrator with a nonprofit. Jones worked on Obama’s 2008 campaign in North Carolina. She is facing Buford Republican Clint Dixon, who acquires land for a home building company.

Unterman comfortably won her 2018 election, getting more than 58% of the vote, but Democrats are trying to seize on an opportunity to flip a seat that is open for the first time since 2003 in a county with changing demographics and political leanings. Unterman vacated her seat to launch an unsuccessful congressional campaign.

Senate District 48

Democrats can look to what happened in 2018 in Senate District 48 as inspiration, when Democratic state Sen. Zahra Karinshak flipped a vacant seat that Republicans had held for nearly three decades.

Karinshak, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress this year after one term in the state Senate, beat Republican Matt Reeves with almost 54% of the vote in 2018. Reeves, an attorney from Duluth, is running again, this time facing Democrat Michelle Au, an anesthesiologist from Johns Creek.

House District 104

Democrat Nikita Hemingway’s campaign also got a boost last month when she was one of seven Democrats running for the Georgia Legislature to receive Obama’s endorsement.

The Realtor from Dacula is challenging incumbent state Rep. Chuck Efstration, a Dacula Republican. Efstration, an attorney, won reelection in 2018 with about 53% of the vote. Efstration is the chairman of the House Judiciary Non-civil Committee.

Efstration also got some exposure earlier this year as the person who drafted the state’s new hate-crimes law, which increases the penalties on those convicted of committing a crime against someone because of who he or she is.

House District 106

Democrat Rebecca Mitchell, a first-time candidate challenging state Rep. Brett Harrell, has called the Snellville-based seat the most flippable in the Legislature.

Mitchell, an epidemiologist, is the first Democratic opponent Harrell has faced since being elected in 2010. But the fact that in his district in 2016 more people voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton than Republican Donald Trump has made Harrell a target of some of the state’s Democrats.

Harrell, a retired garbage company salesman, serves as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.