Targeted by Georgia GOP, McBath switching to safe Democratic district

Bourdeaux says she also intends to run in 7th District, setting up showdown

U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath will run for Congress in a neighboring suburban district after Republicans redrew her congressional seat to be a conservative bastion.

The move sets up a showdown with another Democrat, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux.

McBath told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she’ll run in the 7th Congressional District, swing territory now held by Bourdeaux that Georgia’s Republican-controlled Legislature refashioned into a safe Democratic seat based in Gwinnett County.

“I refuse to let (Gov.) Brian Kemp, the (National Rifle Association) and the Republican Party keep me from fighting,” McBath said. “They are not going to have the last word.”

Bourdeaux narrowly captured the seat last year but has alienated some liberals with her centrist stances. Bourdeaux said Monday that she intends to run in the 7th District.

“It’s my hard-fought honor to serve the people of Gwinnett and GA’s 7th District,” Bourdeaux said in a statement, “and I look forward to continuing to do so.”

McBath announced her decision to run in the 7th District on Monday after the state Legislature gave final approval to a new congressional map that makes it nearly impossible for the Democrat to keep her current 6th Congressional District seat, which previously spanned from east Cobb County to north DeKalb County.

Under the new map, set to soon be signed by Kemp, her old district stretches northward from Sandy Springs to rural Dawson County. It was drawn specifically to win back one of the two suburban Atlanta U.S. House seats that Republicans lost during Donald Trump’s presidency.

The 6th and 7th Congressional Districts could see significant changes according to a Republican proposal.

Credit: Isaac Sabetai

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Credit: Isaac Sabetai

Meanwhile, the overhauled 7th District sheds deeply conservative Forsyth County in favor of parts of Democratic-friendly Fulton and Gwinnett counties. McBath said she intends to move from east Cobb to the new district and position herself as a “mom on a mission” to represent the suburbs.

“As a Black woman, too often I’ve been told to stand down. I refuse to let our voices be silenced in Congress. And people in that district need a voice,” McBath said. “It’s not about power to me. It’s about keeping promises.”

‘Unfinished business’

A former flight attendant, McBath became a nationally known gun control advocate after her teenage son, Jordan, was shot to death in Florida. She seemed poised to qualify for a state House seat in 2018 before surprising party leaders by running instead for the U.S. House.

McBath’s powerful personal story, as both an advocate for gun restrictions and a two-time breast cancer survivor, won over suburban voters who fueled her upset victory over Republican incumbent Karen Handel.

Two years later, McBath decisively ended Handel’s comeback attempt in a 2020 election that cemented the transformation of metro Atlanta’s close-in suburbs from Republican territory to a Democratic stronghold.

Democrat Lucy McBath, left, unseated Republican U.S. Rep. Karen Handel in 2018. The two faced off again in 2020, and McBath won again. AJC file photos.

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In Congress, McBath has been a reliable vote for liberal policies but has also worked to widen her portfolio, even authoring a bill on veterans services that Trump signed. She’s pushed proposals to boost funding for gun violence research, expand health care access and require background checks for firearm sales.

Her rise in state politics has fueled speculation that she could run for higher office, and McBath last year rebuffed multiple attempts to recruit her to compete for the open U.S. Senate seat. She told the AJC that she has “unfinished business” in Congress as she closed the door on a 2022 statewide bid.

“I made a promise to Jordan and my family and my community after he died: that I would do everything in my power to prevent the tragedy from happening to any other family,” she said. “I intend to keep that promise.”

She is sidestepping what would be a near-certain defeat in the 6th District, which was drawn by Republicans to be a safe GOP district not just in the next election cycle but through 2030. It went from a district that Democrat Joe Biden captured by about 12 points to one that Trump would have won by 15 points.

Several GOP candidates have already announced bids in the 6th District, including former state Rep. Meagan Hanson and attorney Jake Evans. But others could join the contest now that McBath is out. Among them is Dr. Rich McCormick, who narrowly lost to Bourdeaux last year, and state Sen. Brandon Beach.

Already, local Republicans in the new district were gearing up to oppose McBath. G.P. Pirkle, who owns the Dawsonville Pool Room, predicted that McBath’s gun control stances would have fired up voters in the conservative North Georgia area drawn into her old district.

“We love our Second Amendment here,” he said, taking a break from grilling burgers at his diner. “Atlanta lawmakers just don’t understand rural issues. They don’t get us.”

‘Green eyeshades’

Switching districts, though, doesn’t guarantee McBath a victory. Democratic state Rep. Donna McLeod of Lawrenceville immediately entered the race, too. And Gwinnett County school board member Everton Blair is considering a run. Bourdeaux, though, is the best-known rival to McBath.

Bourdeaux moved to Suwanee shortly before she announced her challenge against U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, who narrowly defeated her in 2018 and then decided to retire. She captured the vacant seat two years later, becoming the only Democrat in the nation to flip a GOP-held U.S. House district.

While McBath has a higher profile, Bourdeaux honed a reputation in Washington as a numbers geek who leans on her background as a public policy professor and former state Senate budget director. She often talks of donning her “green eyeshades” to scrutinize how spending plans will be financed.

Bourdeaux’s centrist views might have helped her attract middle-of-the-road voters to win a swing district. But they could come back to haunt her in a primary in a revamped Democratic-safe district that’s roughly two-thirds minority voters.

In August, Bourdeaux was among a handful of Democrats who engaged in a standoff with the party’s most powerful leaders, demanding the immediate passage of a bipartisan infrastructure package. Doing so could have threatened the delicate legislative process for other Democratic priorities, because House leaders initially wanted to pass a larger spending package first.

Though the group relented, the strategy invited backlash from the left. Several influential liberal organizations assailed Bourdeaux in an open letter pleading with her to think of “Black and brown voters” who helped elect her.

Bourdeaux has since voted for both the infrastructure plan and the $1.9 trillion social spending and climate change proposal, saying the latter would address the “long-standing needs of our communities.”

She’s also signaled that she’s gearing up for reelection by unveiling an endorsement from former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young over the weekend. Still, she’s likely to face pressure from some party leaders to drop out of the race.

In the interview, McBath previewed a campaign message to distinguish herself from Bourdeaux. She highlighted her background, her gun control advocacy and her record supporting the president’s policies in a new district he overwhelmingly carried.

“I have never wavered on President Biden’s agenda. People are counting on me to get things done in Washington, and they tell me they need me there to stand up for them,” McBath said.

“To see people wavering on his agenda has been disheartening. Biden’s vision is my vision,” she added. “It’s what people in this country deserve.”