Path to Republican U.S. House majority boosted by Georgia redistricting

U.S. Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux (left) and Lucy McBath are both Democrats who won seats in metro Atlanta formerly held by Republicans. Their districts could face significant changes during the redistricting process.
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U.S. Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux (left) and Lucy McBath are both Democrats who won seats in metro Atlanta formerly held by Republicans. Their districts could face significant changes during the redistricting process.

Bourdeaux, McBath likely targets when GOP redraws congressional districts

In an effort to take over Congress, Republicans are looking to redraw the maps of two key Georgia suburban districts that were once solid GOP territory and the political base for then-U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

If successful, Republican redistricting efforts this fall could help reverse recent gains by Democrats who flipped the seats in north metro Atlanta through the election of Lucy McBath in 2018 and Carolyn Bourdeaux in 2020.

The GOP sees redistricting as an opportunity to regain an advantage after Democrats won over an electorate that became more diverse with Black, Asian and Latino voters over the past 10 years. Georgia Republicans have control over redistricting in the General Assembly, where their majority gives them the power to create maps that add more conservative voters and shrink the number of liberals.

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Maps could be drawn to make congressional districts Republican-leaning again with more voters within their boundaries from the exurbs, which tend to be whiter and more conservative.

Winning in Georgia would move Republicans closer to the five seats they need nationally to garner a majority in the U.S. House.

Currently, McBath’s 6th District covers parts of Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties, and Bourdeaux’s 7th District includes most of Gwinnett County and about half of Forsyth County.

Both are running for reelection, and their campaigns say that won’t change even if Republicans make their districts tougher to win.

A spokeswoman for the campaign arm of the national Republican Party says conservative and independent voters in those districts are ready for new representatives.

“Georgians are paying more for everything from gas to groceries because of the trillions in reckless government spending Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux supported,” the National Republican Campaign Committee’s Torunn Sinclair said. “Voters will hold them accountable no matter what their districts look like.”

Democrats across the country are already on the defensive in next year’s midterm elections, when the party of the sitting president usually loses congressional seats.

Combined with redistricting in Republican-controlled states such as Georgia, Democrats fear they could lose their House majority. The party’s campaign arm has said Bourdeaux and McBath will receive extra help defending their seats.

Caption
Georgia has 14 congressional districts, with eight Republicans and six Democrats in 2021. Source: Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office

Credit: gina

Georgia has 14 congressional districts, with eight Republicans and six Democrats in 2021. Source: Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office
Caption
Georgia has 14 congressional districts, with eight Republicans and six Democrats in 2021. Source: Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office

Credit: gina

Credit: gina

McBath, who lives in Marietta, has often been left out of conversations about vulnerable members because she is considered safe in her district as it’s currently drawn.

She won the seat in 2018, narrowly defeating Republican incumbent Karen Handel. At one time, the seat was Gingrich’s home base, and the area had been represented by Republicans in the U.S. House for decades.

The seat’s current tilt toward Democrats could change depending on the maps approved later this year. But the Congressional Leadership Fund, a political committee tied to U.S. House Republican leaders, has devoted all its resources in Georgia to attacking Bourdeaux and not McBath.

McBath’s campaign manager, Jake Orvis, said she will be reelected if she keeps doing the job the people of the 6th District sent her to do.

“Her work has included sponsoring twice as many bills which became law than her Republican predecessors did in 14 years,” he said. “Rep. McBath’s overwhelming 9-point win in 2020 is proof the people of the 6th want her to continue serving them, and that is exactly what they should get.”

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The state’s population has increased by 1 million people since 2010, with many people moving to metropolitan and Democratic areas and away from more rural and Republican counties.

Each congressional district must have the same population, but growth in Bourdeaux’s 7th District makes it nearly 100,000 residents too large today. That means the General Assembly must shift voters into new districts.

The 6th District is about the right size, with a population of 766,000.

J. Miles Coleman, an editor at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said Republicans should be able to draw maps that allow them to win back one of the seats. Republicans currently hold eight of Georgia’s 14 House districts.

“It’s very likely we’re going to get a 9-5 split out of Georgia,” Coleman said. “If you take the current 6th and 7th districts and put the most Democratic parts in one district, you’d have a pretty safe blue seat and maybe have enough red parts left over to have another seat that leans Republican.”

In a hypothetical map drawn by Coleman, Democrats could be condensed in one district that reaches horizontally across Atlanta’s northern suburbs. Another district would extend northward to take in solidly Republican voters.

But Republicans could run a risk if they overextend themselves and try to take over both districts, Coleman said. Doing so could leave them with slim margins that wouldn’t guarantee victory in either district.

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Outside of metro Atlanta, a Democrat holds one other congressional seat, U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop. Attempts to reduce the majority Black population in Bishop’s southwest Georgia district could attract court challenges. Racial discrimination in redistricting is illegal under the Voting Rights Act.

It’s unclear which of the two competitive seats in metro Atlanta that Republicans will target. Bourdeaux took the 7th District with 51% of the vote in November, while McBath won the 6th District with 55%.

Back in 2012 when the seats were considered solidly Republican, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney won about 60% of the votes in both. Last year, Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, carried the 6th District with 55% of the vote, and he got 52% of the vote in the 7th.

The districts’ political shift was driven by population growth during the past decade among groups that tend to favor Democratic candidates. The number of Black residents jumped by 41% in the 7th District and 14% in the 6th District, while white populations in both districts declined, according to census data.

Just one Republican is currently in the race against Bourdeaux: emergency room physician Rich McCormick, who lost to her last year.

That race was for an open seat created by the retirement of U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, who only narrowly won reelection over Bourdeaux in 2018. He decided not to seek another term in 2020, in part, because the changing demographics in the 7th District made it tougher for a Republican to win.

Bourdeaux, of Suwanee, said she is focused on proving her worth to voters in one of Georgia’s most diverse congressional districts.

“I can’t predict what the future holds, so I’m just working very hard to represent my district in its current form, holding ‘Coffees with Carolyn’ and conducting community outreach from Cumming to Grayson, from Peachtree Corners to Buford,” she said. “The upcoming election isn’t going to change that.”

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Several Republicans have already announced campaigns against McBath, though they say they don’t know yet whether the area’s political makeup will grow more favorable to them after redistricting.

“I’m in this race to win it regardless of what the district lines are,” said 6th District GOP candidate Jake Evans, who recently stepped down as chairman of the Georgia ethics commission to run for Congress. “There will be a red wave in 2022, not by virtue of redistricting, but by virtue of excessive liberal policies and the awful results they’ve delivered.”

Meagan Hanson, an attorney from Sandy Springs, said she doesn’t need the 6th District to be redrawn to turn it back Republican. She defeated a Democrat in a 2016 state House race before losing her reelection bid in 2018 to Democrat Matthew Wilson, now a candidate for state insurance commissioner.

“Republicans have a good chance of winning this seat, redistricting aside,” Hanson said. “Anything that happens with redistricting is up to the Legislature, and I’m just going to make the best case I can to the voters of the 6th District, whoever they may be.”

A conservative voter who lives in Forsyth County, Theresa Shen, said she hopes redistricting makes it possible to elect someone who more closely reflects her values. Bourdeaux’s district covers most of the county, which supported Republican Donald Trump with 66% of the vote in November’s presidential race.

Shen told legislators during a public meeting on redistricting this summer that she wants Forsyth to be unified within one congressional district. Right now, northern parts of the county fall into the solidly Republican 9th District, held by U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde.

“I would like a Republican to represent me — a real conservative,” said Shen, a software architect from Suwanee. “When Carolyn (Bourdeaux) was elected, I got the impression she was center-left and moderate, but I really don’t know at this point.”

McCormick said voters are turning against Bourdeaux now that she has a record in Congress.

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“Irrespective of redistricting, prospects in Georgia’s 7th District are improving for Republicans because voters are having buyer’s remorse voting for Joe Biden and Carolyn Bourdeaux,” McCormick said. “As our congresswoman, she has voted to saddle her constituents with trillions of dollars of generational debt. Georgians are bearing the brunt of those poor decisions.”

Harold Earls, a former Army captain running in the 6th District, said he thinks its current map is already winnable, even before redistricting.

“We are prepared to run a campaign whether it be where the district currently sits or it becomes more conservative,” Earls said. “We’re prepared to fight and win on either one of those fronts.”

Republicans in the races will face pressure to demonstrate their conservative values in the primary, requiring them to take positions on issues such as abortion and Medicaid expansion that are a tougher sell in a general election against a Democrat.

Monica Robinson served as a spokeswoman for Bourdeaux during the 2020 campaign, and she is now with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. She said the last election made it clear that Georgians in these districts no longer favor the kind of far-right conservatism employed by U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of northwest Georgia.

“While the GOP candidates in Atlanta’s suburbs are busy trying to out-Marjorie Taylor Greene each other, Rep. Lucy McBath and Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux have been hard at work kick-starting Georgia’s economy and helping families get through this pandemic,” she said. “They are both critical to holding our Democratic House majority, and we have every confidence they will be reelected in 2022.”


Georgia’s changing districts, 2010-2020

Georgia’s 6th and 7th congressional districts, both in metro Atlanta, were held by Republicans after new congressional maps were drawn using figures from the 2010 census. Over the decade, the number of people of color within these districts increased. Democrats now control both seats, although that could change next year after new maps are drawn.

6th District

Black: +14%

White: -2%

Hispanic: +16%

Asian: +51%

District overall: +11%

7th District

Black: +41%

White: -5%

Hispanic: +38%

Asian: +83%

District overall: +24%

Source: U.S. census