In battleground Georgia, most down-ticket races simply aren’t competitive

Qualifying ends Friday, leaving many incumbents with token opposition or no challenger
Sam Brown-Parks, running for State House District 54, steps briefly out of line for qualifying at the Capitol. Friday was the final day to file paperwork to qualify for legislative and congressional races.  (Arvin Temkar /

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Sam Brown-Parks, running for State House District 54, steps briefly out of line for qualifying at the Capitol. Friday was the final day to file paperwork to qualify for legislative and congressional races. (Arvin Temkar /

Georgia is one of the nation’s most competitive political battlegrounds, evidenced by visits this weekend by both Joe Biden and Donald Trump. But as polarized as the state’s politics are, down-ticket races for the U.S. House and Legislature could be far less competitive.

Republicans are all but certain to retain power in the Legislature and maintain their edge in the U.S. House delegation as the five-day qualifying period ended Friday, leaving many incumbents with token opposition or no challenger at all.

That’s mainly due to gerrymandered political maps that protected most incumbents and left only a handful of swing districts up for grabs. But it also reflects a strategy by both parties set to pour resources into only the most competitive races.

It underscores a strange dynamic: Even in such a politically divided state as Georgia, few seats are likely to flip from one party to another this year.

About half of Georgia’s 180 House races drew candidates from both parties, while 33 of Georgia’s 56 Senate seats will be uncontested in November.

Many incumbents effectively won reelection when qualifying ended Friday because they don’t have an opponent from either party.

Republicans hold a 9-5 advantage in Georgia’s congressional delegation, a 33-23 lead in the state Senate and a 102-78 edge in the state House.

“You can’t say, ‘There’s no chance’ without trying, and I think that this is certainly a year where we can chip away at the numbers that Republicans have,” said state Sen. Jason Esteves, treasurer for the Democratic Party of Georgia.

“Obviously, the deck is stacked against us because of the gerrymandering that occurred last year,” he said, “but Democrats are going to do our best to make these races competitive.”

By contrast, every one of Georgia’s U.S. House races drew candidates from both parties. No seats are likely to flip, but there will be several closely watched primaries.

The most fiercely fought will likely be the race for the solidly Republican west Georgia seat held by retiring U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson.

Former Trump adviser Brian Jack might be the front-runner after he entered the race Thursday with the former president’s endorsement, but others including former state Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, former state Rep. Philip Singleton and ex-state Sen. Mike Crane are in the running.

The court-ordered redistricting also triggered new contests after several Democratic incumbents were moved into new territories.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath shifted from Atlanta’s northern suburbs to a new seat on the city’s western outskirts, where she’ll face several long-shot opponents.

U.S. Rep. David Scott migrated to a redrawn territory in east metro Atlanta but won’t have a cakewalk. Military veteran Marcus Flowers, who raised more than $16 million in a failed challenge to U.S. Rep. Marjorie Greene in 2022, is now competing against him.

Republicans are pressing a range of red-meat issues meant to energize conservatives. But they also hope to contrast themselves with Biden and his allies and focus on GOP economic policies.

“Republicans will be rewarded for the steady conservative leadership that they have provided for almost the last two decades,” GOP Chair Josh McKoon said. “My message to our candidates is to highlight successes, talk about the continued lowering of the state income tax rate and the incredibly business-friendly environment that’s been built in Georgia.”

‘Planting seeds’

The end of the five-day qualifying period made for plenty of last-minute drama. Just before the deadline, two candidates for Fulton County district attorney filed paperwork to run against incumbent Fani Willis: Democrat Christian Wise Smith and Republican Courtney Kramer.

Willis is the unquestioned favorite in the race, but both contenders could soak up plenty of local and national media attention and bring scrutiny to how Willis is handling the racketeering trial against Trump and 14 remaining co-defendants.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, a Democrat, qualified on Wednesday to run for reelection. On Friday, she drew two challengers: Democrat Christian Wise Smith and Republican Courtney Kramer. (Steve Schaefer/

Credit: Steve Schaefer/AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Steve Schaefer/AJC

And there was much gamesmanship in the final stretch as incumbents angled to deter opponents and legislators waited to announce retirements so their hand-picked favorites would get a leg up.

State House Minority Leader James Beverly, the chamber’s top Democrat, said Friday that he wouldn’t seek another term in his Macon-based district. He joins other prominent lawmakers who are hanging it up, including state Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler.

Republican state Sen. Shelly Echols announced her retirement just before the noon Friday deadline, right as her husband Drew qualified for the seat. He will still face a GOP opponent, as former state Rep. Josh Clark also filed paperwork to seek the seat.

Ashwin Ramaswami, 24, is one of the youngest candidates running for state office. On Friday, he received welcome news: He was the only Democrat to qualify against GOP state Sen. Shawn Still.

“There’s always a transition at which the new generation comes and takes the reins,” he said. “What it says is that young people really care about our democracy and they care about making a change. But we’ve not been empowered to make that change.”

He and other Democratic challengers face uphill battles in conservative-leaning territory, but they also hope to drive turnout to help Biden overcome Trump in November.

Bob Herndon started the Fighting 50 initiative to recruit more candidates in races that once went unopposed. He said if each new long-shot Democrat recruits a few hundred new voters to cast ballots, it could add up.

“We know we’re gerrymandered. We know we can’t win. But we’re not going to sit down and be quiet,” Herndon said. “We’re going to stand up for values of Medicaid expansion, abortion rights and education. And we’re planting seeds for the future.”

Democrats line up to sign paperwork to run for election at the Capitol. The qualifying period for legislative and congressional races closed Friday. (Arvin Temkar /

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC